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Summary: Alduin the World Eater has returned to finish what began centuries ago. Only now there are no Dragonborn to stand in his way. Except one, the one they made a god; Talos himself. The god of men has returned to Skyrim to reclaim his glory, and stop Alduin.
It is known that the gods do not interfere with the lives of mortals. Though there have been times thoughout our world's long history that the direct intervention of the gods has been needed. Not in two hundred years, not since the Great Oblivion Crisis, have the gods met to cast a fate unto the mortals. Though now it seems that their hand must be dealt once again, and though the gods may not privy themselves to say it, they fear for the lives of the mortals. For this time the danger on their doorstep was of the god's own creation.
First-born of Akatosh
The End Bringer, and the World Eater
He can only be slain by a Dragonborn. The ancient heroes of men who wielded the Voice of the dragons and could steal their power, though these heroes died with the dragons, centuries ago; none remain.
The Pantheon of the Nine Divines
"For the coming of that day shall I fight, I and my sons and my chosen friends. For the freedom of Man. For his rights. For his life. For his honor."
― Ayn Rand, Anthem
Even as a god his armor was uncomfortable. Talos shifted in his seat, very aware of the silence of the Pantheon. In his time among the Divines he never had seen them at a loss for words. Usually they would be arguing amongst each other, though now they had nothing to say.
The Nine were seated in a semicircle surrounding Lord Akatosh. Each god assumed a different form for the Pantheon (Talos recalled an awkward moment when Kynareth assumed the form of a tree for the length of the meeting); Akatosh took the form of a great golden dragon; Arkay a grim Imperial; Juliannos, a Breton mage ; Stendaar, a Dunmer; Mara a beautiful Imperial woman; Dibella a beautiful Breton; Kynareth, a Nord woman; and Zenithar a Khajiit with grey and black fur. Their forms differed on any given day. Then of course there was Talos who assumed the same form he had when he was but a man. Talos had been born a Nord, and he would serve the Divines as a Nord. He had short, light hair, midnight blue eyes, and was wearing his Imperial Dragon Armor, the very same that he'd worn at Sancre Tor when he was mortal. Aside from Talos and Akatosh the others were all wearing white robes. He guessed they assumed mortal appearences so that it would be easier for the god of men to comprehend the meeting. He nicely tried to ignore that fact.
Talos felt the eyes of the great golden dragon on him, burrowing into his soul. As lord of the gods Akatosh had that effect on the other Eight. Talos watched as Akatosh shifted his weight to his right rear leg, and then started to hum in the way dragons do when they are thinking of what to say. Finally Akatosh spoke to the entire Pantheon, "The first of my children has returned, and soon the others will follow," he said. His voice was deep and rich, yet somehow it still sounded like a mouth full of teeth. "Alduin has returned and the Divines grow silent?"
"Lord Akatosh," Juliannos said, turning toward the great dragon, "if it truly is Alduin, of which I have no doubt, then there is nothing to speak of. He is the harbinger of the end times. If he has returned then the time has come. You created him yourself. You know that better than anyone."
Smoke trailed from the dragon's snout. "Mey," Akatosh said in a half roar, "Why would we meet as such? If it were hopeless than we would stand aside and watch from above as daar joorre mey dir hevno ann dinoks?" he growled as he slipped back and forth from the language of the dragons and Common.
Arkay spoke so softly he could hardly be heard, "Perhaps it is time Lord Akatosh. They are doomed to death, as all mortals are, and Alduin's appearance-"
"Is a mistake!" interuppted Stendar. "The Nords of old manipulated time! If anything this timeline wasn't supposed to have happened. It should have ended thousands of years ago, but now the whole timeline is different!"
"Vahzah," Akatosh said dipping his horned head, "time has been... ripped, torn apart."
Mara stood. "They deserve a chance. Have you not heard their prayers? If the land of Skyrim is overtaken by dragons now they will have less than a chance. Especially with this civil war being waged! Talos?" she said eyeing him from where she stood.
He jumped at the sound of his name. Usually Talos took a back seat to their arguments. Talos shook his head as he sat forward in his chair. "I do not see an end to this war any time soon," his voice was quiet. He cleared his throat. "The Nords, these 'Stormcloaks' fight for the honor of their race and for their ancestors. They will not give in easily," he paused, considering the fact that they fought for him as well, "or at all."
It was Arkay who spoke again, this time he seemed to have found his voice, "They are sent to their ancestors, whether it be by the hand of other mortals or by the maw of Alduin!"
"And what sort of fate is that?" piped in Dibella, her voice was a squeak. "Killed and sent to Sovngarde only to be consumed by Alduin?"
"Their fates are sealed!" Juliannos said as he rose from his chair. His face was growing red with anger. "They destroyed the last of the Dragonborn!" He pointed at Talos. "Your own kin! They did this to themselves! The Septims were murdered by the hands of mortals! Their fates were sealed two hundred years ago, and they are lucky to have had this long at all! If we hadn't saved them from Mehrunes D a g o n they'd all be servants to the daedra or dead!"
Zenithar stood as well. "He speaks sense," he looked at Juliannos his tail twitching in agitation. "The Dragonborn are dead, both their line and their kind are gone."
Are they? thought Talos as the others continue debating over whether or not they could do anything. The other Dragonborn were killed long after Talos had ascended. They were in Sovngarde now, and even Talos wouldn't step foot there now, not with Alduin lurking in the mists surrounding the Shor's Hall. Then an idea hit him. His heart jumped in his chest, there was one Dragonborn left alive! One who had never died, one who was never defeated, one who was so renown and powerful he became a living god. A living, breathing, Dragonborn, god,he thought. If were to return to Mundus he could defeat Alduin and even show those Altmer the reason that he'd become a god. He smiled at the thought.
The others were still at each other's throats as Talos stood and walked into the middle of the Pantheon, his armor clinking with each movement like war drums proclaiming a march. None seemed to notice him save for Akatosh who nodded, and then with a great roar the dragon god sent a stream of golden flame into the air, silencing the warring gods. They stared at him as he started to speak, "Alduin is my creation," he began, his voice heavy with emotion, "Prodah, it is foretold. As I create, he devours." He stopped, and looked at each god in turn. "Heyv Alduin. It is Alduin's duty. This what he was created for, though this is not the time, and this is no longer the world he was created to destroy. Only a Dovahkiin can prevent Alduin from exerting his wrath on the mortal realm and the realms beyond. They bought themselves time, selfishly, though now there are no more Dovahkiin to save them. No way to stop the end."
All were silent, then there the sound of heavy armored footfalls as Talos approached Akatosh. "Niid, Drog Akatosh," he said, adopting the dragon tongue, "there remains one Dovahkiin alive." The others stared at him. "I am not one of the original Eight. I was a man, a warrior, and a Nord. Most of all I was Dragonborn. I never died. I ascended," he turned, watching the other Divines carefully.
The others watched him with wild eyes as the god of men continued, "As you all know the Empire has banned my worship. It was my own creation, my blood and tears and life force into that Empire, and they throw me away like I was nothing. The Thalmor, the High Elves, believe that they can become gods, that they can control the gods. It is an insult made directly in our faces; an insult we have ignored for far too long!" Talos' eyes grew fierce. "Return me to Skyrim. They banned my people from worshipping me. Now the Nords have rebelled against my Empire, doing so in my name. Let me show you that I still deserve to serve among you as a Divine." At that he knelt before Akatosh. "Let me return to the mortal world," Talos said, looking up at Akatosh, "and save my people from the hands of false gods."
Akatosh lowered his head to look into Talos' eyes. "Dovahkiin? Do you truly wish to do this?"
Talos nodded. "Yes, my lord."
Akatosh snorted then raised his head above the crowd. "Do any object the Dragonborn's request?"
Akatosh faced Talos again. "Good luck, Zeymah, I hope to see you in Sovngarde when you have succeeded."
Then the great dragon breathed upon Talos, and the world was consumed in darkness.
He felt a cold stone beneath him. Talos tried to rise, but his body fought against him. His head was pounding, his ears ringing, his stomach lurching, and his very breath felt stolen away. But this was both new and familiar to him. Pain, he thought. He hadn't experienced pain in so long; so very long. He lay there on his back in the darkness that surrounded him. He was unsure of where he was, only that it was dark and cold.
Talos was vaguely aware that he was naked. He sat cross legged as he tried to organize his thoughts. First things first, he thought, who am I? Obviously due to lack of fur, scales, or enormous teeth he was not Orc, Khajiit, or Argonian. He stood, unsteady at first, and he stared at his hands. They were large and free of any marks or calluses. He judged by his height and weight he was Nord. So I am still myself then, good. He touched his brow where he had a taken a scar from an ax and found it was not there. He was new. He was young again, not even out of his twenties. I have been given another life.
Now for the second task, where was he exactly? He turned left, arms outstreched until his hands found rock. He followed it until he found a door leading into a central chamber. Grasping the door frame he entered, and then fell to his knees when he saw an altar before him. Of course, he thought staring at the altar where his Imperial Dragon Armor once lay. The others had returned him to where he'd left. Sancre Tor. His mind raced. Memories and nightmares from the battle of Sancre Tor. It was the siege that had made him a god in the eyes of his people. He glanced at the tomb of Reman III. He touched the ancient stone that held the bones of the great man. This was where he found the Amulet of Kings a milennia ago, but Talos remembered it like it was yesterday.
The temple had turned to ruin. By the looks of it there had not been a visitor there for centuries. There were no obstacles to hinder his path. With a quiet prayer to Arkay for the souls of those buried here, Talos began to search the graves and tombs of the dead in search of any sort of armor or clothing, and a weapon if he should be so lucky. These graves were those of Bretons and Nords, dead from the battle of Sancre Tor. Yet there were a few here who were once Blades, and others who were once royalty. Though they were now long forgotten. He found the ruins of Sancre Tor had been looted long ago. He found nothing but rags, yet rags were better than nothing when it came to going bare into the world. If he was remembering right Sancre Tor was in the Frostback Mountains bordering Skyrim. He would need protection from the cold. He managed to find some ancient fur armor, and a rusted blade. Deciding that there was nothing more of use there, he left.
As he left the ruins he was blinded by the light of the sun and pure white of the snow. For a moment he was at a loss for direction. Then he remembered, like an old memory from a lifetime ago.
Alduin. The Pantheon.
The mountain pass was treacherous. It slowed his pace, and forced him to rest. He found a small outcropping in lee of the wind and he stopped, thinking of starting a fire and camping for the night. That was when he heard it; the sound of fighting, swords clashing, and shouts. He started running in the direction of the fighting. He found the battle, a small skirmish really. Talos recognized the Imperial banner, unchanged this new era. The blue banner must be the Stormcloaks and their rebellion.
"Die rebel bastard!" he heard behind him. Talos turned, his hand on his blade. But he was too slow, and the Imperial had the jump on him. Next thing Talos knew the Legionaire's shield made contact with his head. Talos' world went black.
As suggested, list of translations for the Dragon Language as it appears...
Mey - Fool
daar joorre mey dir hevno ann dinokke - *rough* these fool mortals to die brutal deaths
Vahzah - True
Prodah - Foretold
Alduin heyv - Alduin's duty
Dovahkiin - Dragonborn
Niid, Drog Akatosh - No, Lord Akatosh
Zeymah - Brother
Brothers In Binds
"...one opportunity leads directly to another, just as risk leads to more risk, life to more life, and death to more death."
― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
"Hey, you, you're finally awake," said a voice from across from him. Talos blinked his eyes as the world returned to focus. Across from him sat a young Nord in chain mail with blue cloth underneath. To his right were two more Nords, one in rags and the other who was dressed like a noble. Talos noted that the noble was gagged. Talos looked at his hands, noting that they were in binds. Talos cursed. Had he really been stupid enough to move in so close to the battle that he'd been captured? "You were trying to cross the border, right?" the young Nord said as he eyed Talos with concern. "Walked right into that Imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there."
"Damn you stormcloaks. Skyrim was fine before you came along. Empire was nice and lazy," said the thief. Talos frowned. At this point he hadn't bothered to see who was driving their little wagon train. Talos took this chance to look at the driver; an Imperial soldier. "If they hadn't been looking for you, I could've stolen that horse and been half way to Hammerfell," the thief fummed, then turned to Talos. "You there, you and me – we shouldn't be here. It's these Stormcloaks the Empire wants."
"We're all brothers and sisters in binds now, thief," said the young Stormcloak quickly.
They were all silent for a few moments, it was the thief who broke their silence, he turned to Talos. "And what's wrong with him, huh?" he said as he stole a glance at the gagged noble.
"Watch your tongue. You're speaking to Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King," the Stormcloak growled. "Show some respect!"
The thief's face turned white. "Ulfric? The Jarl of Windhelm?" he said shakily. "You're the leader of the rebellion. But if they've captured you…." He gasped. "Oh gods, were they taking us?"
Talos looked at the man to his right, so this was the great Ulfric Stormcloak? The man who rebeled against the Empire and the elves? Talos held back a smile, Just like me when I was young, one man against the world. Meanwhile the thief was becoming more and more anxious, he looked like he was litterally shaking in fear. The Stormcloak seemed to notice this. "What village are you from, horse thief?" he said, his voice soft, comforting.
The thief looked at him curiously, with what looked like accusation in his eyes. "Why do you care?"
"A Nord's last thoughts should be of home," the Stormcloak said softly.
"Rorikstead. I - I'm from Rorikstead," the thief said, his voice cracking over each word. Talos watched as the train of wagons approached a great stone gate. There was a loud creaking sound as the front gates opened. Somewhere a soldier cried out something, but Talos did not hear the response. He was thinking of ways to get out of this predicament.
The thief was now crying out to the gods, "Shor, Mara, Dibella, Kynareth, Akatosh. Divines, please help me!" Talos bowed his head. Maybe Akatosh had heard him, but his prayers would be in vain. The Divines did not involve themselves in the lives of mortals. Anyways there was nothing the god of men could do.
As they passed the entrance gates Talos was able to catch a glimpse of a soldier in shining armor, and then he saw him conversing with a group of High Elves. The Stormcloak must have seen them too. "Look at him, General Tullius the Military Governor, and it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves. I bet they had something to do with this," he hissed.
A sour taste grew in Talos' mouth. So those were the Thalmor? The ones who had banished his worshipers from the Empire? Who thought them mighty enough to control the gods? He knew that thirty years ago the Empire fought against the Elves, and had lost. Their penance was to sign the White-Gold Concordat, banning Talos from worship and giving the Thalmor a secure foothold within the Empire. His Empire destoryed. He didn't like the Altmer before and he didn't like them now.
Defeated Talos sunk into his seat as he caught the Stormcloak in mid conversation. "Funny, when I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers used to make me feel so safe," he said with a half hearted laugh.
He watched as the wagon cleared a corner and then eased next to the other wagon. The prisoners from the other wagon already had begun disembarking. Theirs stopped for a moment, then a harsh voice shouted a command, "Get these prisoners out of the carts. Move!"
Immediately, they started leaving their cart. Once they were all off they lined up the Imperial Officers arranged themselves in front. The captian's armor flashed in the late afternoon sun as the soldier next to her held a scroll and quill and seemed to be counting. "Empire loves their damned lists," said the Stormcloak next to him. Talos held back a laugh.
The soldier with the scroll began reading off names. As their names were called the prisoners assembled themselves at the block, and now they had reached their group. "Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm." Ulfric stepped forward and followed the others, still gagged and unable to speak.
"It has been an honor, Jarl Ulfric," said the Stormcloak beside him reverently.
"Ralof of Riverwood," said the reader.
The Stormcloak beside him, Ralof, smiled softly at Talos. "Let's go. Shouldn't keep the gods waiting for us." Then he followed Ulfric to the block. If only he knew a god was going with him to the block. Akatosh, Talos swore silently, if you're big golden ass can hear me right now, some help would be nice.
"Lokir of Rorikstead."
The thief practically jumped out of his skin at the sound of his name. "No, I'm not a rebel! You can't do this!" he pleaded, eyeing the Imperials wildly. "You're not going to kill me!" He bolted like a daedra fleeing a Temple. Talos hoped for a moment that Lokir would escape.
"Archers!" cried the Captain. A triple of arrows flew from the walls and into Lokir's back. The thief fell to the ground and moved no more. He was dead before he had even hit the ground. "Anyone else feel like running?" asked the Captain of the remaining prisoners, there was silence.
Shaking his head the list reader continued, but then stopped and looked directly at Talos, "Wait," he said. "You there. Step forward." Talos stepped forward, keeping his eyes on the soldier. "Who are you?"
Talos stood frozen. He searched his brain for a name. He couldn't say he was Tiber Septim, or Talos, not even his name before that. Then a word came to mind. He wasn't sure of where it came from or of it's meaning, but it was perfect. "Your name?" the soldier repeated.
Talos smiled. "Revak."
"Captain, what should we do? This one's not on the list."
"To the block," she said curtly, "all of them."
The reader mumbled something Revak couldn't hear. "Yes Captain," he said, avoiding eye contact with Revak. "You heard the Captain, prisoner, to the block."
With a soft nod Revak followed the others to the block. He strained against the binds around his wrists, managing to loosen them a little, but still not enough to free his hands. Dismayed, he took his place in between two Stormcloak soldiers. He felt the eyes of the citizens of the small town bearing on him. He watched as a middle aged Imperial dressed in fine armor and a red generals cloak was led to the execuation area accompanied by two High elves dressed in intricate black robes. Hate grew in Revak's stomach. Revak cursed, My Empire has become nothing but their puppets! The general approached Ulfric, who was still gagged, and stared into the Nord's eyes before beginning.
"Ulfric Stormcloak," he said, his voice condemning, "some here in Helgen call you a hero, but a hero doesn't use a power like the Voice to murder the king and usurp his throne."
The general was still droning on, "You started this war! Plunged Skyrim into chaos! And now the Empire is going to put you down and restore peace." Tullius turned and rejoined to the Thalmor.
The Captain saluted the general as he passed her. "Give them their last rites!" she commanded the priest of Arkay next to her.
The young priest stepped forward. You could tell she was nervous. She walked softly, like her legs shook beneath her. She raised her hands. "As we commend your souls to-"
"Oh, for the love of Talos, shut up already," Revak jumped a little at the sound of his former name. I'm a curse now? he thought as the Stormcloak to his right stepped forward.
The priestess seemed just as surprised. Revak could almost make out her scowl from where he stood. "Very well then," she said as the Stormcloak passed her as he made his way to the block. The Captain lowered him to his knees and pressed his head against the stone.
He was smiling as the headsman raised his axe. "My ancestors are smiling at me, Imperials! Can you say the same?" he said as the axe hung in the air before swiftly cutting through his neck. The man died with a smile still etched on his face. His body slumped to the ground as there was a sickening thud as the head landed in the basket. Blood pooled around the bare neck as two Imperials cleared the headless body away from the block so that the next prisoner could approach.
"Next prisoner!" called the Captain, her eyes searching through the crowd. "You!" She pointed at Revak. Revak sighed as he stepped forward. That's when he heard it, a roar. It was dulled, like whatever made it was some distance away. Revak paused as the creature roared again, the others looked just as nervous, muttering under their breaths and searching the sky as they tried to find the source of the strange call. It sounded familiar to Revak, but he couldn't place it.
The Captain wasn't about to let a strange creature interupt her. "I said, next prisoner," she said with a hint of venom.
Revakaal's mind was a buzz as he approached the block. He'd already thought of a plan. His bonds were loose enough so that they granted some movement, but not much. As he approached he saw that the headsman had been favoring one leg, meaning that his other had been injured previously. He could knee the headsman and use the axe to sever the bonds.
As he approached he heard that call again, but much louder and closer this time. Revak approached the block, his heart afire in his chest. That's when he saw it. Just above the tower he could see a huge black dragon. It swooped and turned, its maw open and raw with black and red flames. Everyone was frozen in fear as the dragon gathered its flame. Revak ducked to the ground, narrowly avoiding the stream of fire. Revak rolled and landed on his knees, and watched as the dragon landed on the tower.
Even in his time as Talos he'd never seen a dragon that size. It can't be, he thought as he watched the dragon gather flame once more. Alduin? Revak saw the Captain issuing orders to frantic soldiers. The dragon drew back it's head and let free a blast of flame. Revak charged the Captain, knocking her off her feet and preventing her from being toasted in her armor. Flames surged over their heads as Revak looked and saw that the Captain's helm had fallen off. Her brown eyes were wide in fear and surprise. "Sorry M'am, I'm afraid that you've got a bit of a dragon problem," Revak said as he pushed himself to his feet and ran in the direction of the keep, following a group of Stormcloaks.
Running was awkward still in binds, but he made it into the keep. Two Stormcloaks closed the door behind him. Revak sank to the floor, sweat crawling down his brow. Once the world stopped spinning he took account of what was around him. It was a simple keep tower. He recognized Ralof as he approached. The young Nord's blond hair was caked with soot and ash. He motioned to Revak to come closer, holding a dagger in his hands. "Here," he said, "let's see if we can get those bindings off." Revak nodded and let Ralof cut his bonds. Once free Revak rubbed his wrists to return circulation. Revak nodded in thanks, and rose to his feet. The sounds of fighting and fire still coming from outside.
Ralof looked at him. "What was that thing? You don't think," he paused, choosing his words, "you don't think the legends can be true?"
Revak scowled. "Legends don't burn down villages."
"True," Ralof nodded. "C'mon, let's get out of here," he said eyeing the stairs. "This place is nothing but a tomb." Revak agreed, this shoddy tower wouldn't stand up to any dragon.
"Good idea," Revak said. He noticed a door that must lead below the keep. "Hey, look," he said, pointing to the door, "a way out, don't you think?"
"Ha, looks like our luck isn't completely spent," he said as he picked up an axe from a dead Stormcloak. Revak glanced at him. "Gundar won't be needing these anymore," he said as he handed Revak a iron sword. Revak drew the sword from it's scabbard, it wasn't the greatest of quality and it was heavily used, but it was sharp; that would be all that he'd need. He gave it a twirl as he checked the balance. Once convinced that it wouldn't shatter he sheathed it and wrapped it and it's belt around his waist and followed Ralof further into the keep.
The door did lead underneath the keep. The air was moist and dank. There little light except for the occasional torch leading the way down the dark hall. "I think this leads to the dungeons," Ralof said softly.
At the end they reached a door. It was wooden and barely on it's hinges. They heard voices inside. Smoothly as he could, Revak drew his sword. Ralof did the same with his axe. Revak raised his finger to his lips. Ralof nodded as Revak slowly grasped the door handle and pushed.
The smell inside was strong with carrion. Revak stepped forward, the door was on the opposite side of a wall. On the other side he heard a soft voice, "Shhh shhh shhhh little ones! You're safe here. Old Lex will take care of you. Safe in your cages. You'll sing for Lex! Oh such beautiful songs!" the voice was soft and sinister, with a crack of insanity. What was this old man doing? Did he really have no idea that a dragon was attacking the keep?
Revak looked back at Ralof, who urged him forward, his eyes full of disgust. As Revak turned the corner he saw what almost made him gag. Cages hung from the ceiling. Some held bodies, but others only bits and pieces. On the other wall lay a table full of sinister tools. Revak didn't even know what some of them were. At the table stood an elderly Imperial mage, who was using a towel to remove the blood from his arms. On the other side of the room there was another door. Revak pointed at the Nord in the cage. On three, Revak mouthed. He held up his fingers, One, two, three, and just as they were about to charge the old man there was a crash at the other door.
A Nord woman wearing Stormcloak mail burst through the door with her bow drawn followed by another Stormcloak. With a throaty cry she released her arrow, missing the old Imperial by inches. He turned and fired a stream of electricity. She ducked and the electricity was absorbed by the wall behind her. Revak and Ralof charged in as well, surrounding the Imperial.
The old man cackled. "Oh look! Enough for a choir!" Fire started gathering in his fists, the old mage smiled wickedly. "Oh the songs! The beautiful cries! A symphony!" He threw a wall of flame, knocking them all back. Revak saw stars as his head hit the stone floor. Shaking away the pain in his head he charged the old mage, who now held a dagger in his hand.
With the ease of a veteran Revak disarmed the mage, and before the mad old Imperial even knew what had happened Revak's blade pressed against throat. "Arkay guide you," Revak mumbled as he drove his sword through the man's throat. A crazed smile was imprinted on the old mage's face, and with one last gurgle he fell to the floor and moved no more.
With a sigh Revak used the mage's robe to clear his blade of the gore. Then sheathed it as he heard the others getting to their feet. Revak turned and offered his arm to Ralof who grudingly accepted it, rubbing the back of his head. The Stormcloak woman was getting up as well, though her companion moved no more. Blood pooled around his head, Revak knew instantly that he'd landed in a bad way. With a silent curse and a prayer Revak approached the fallen Stormcloak and closed his eyes.
"He was a good man," said the woman, "and a good soldier."
Revak nodded. "Sadly he'll have to stay here." She nodded solemly.
"Are you all right, Sigrid? What's going on outside?" Ralof asked the woman.
"I got a couple bruises from landing and a burn from the flames, but nothing serious." She shuddered. "The whole village is lost, that monster is picking off soldiers one by one and destroying the entire keep. The only way out is the way we came, but I think it's been blocked," she said as she removed her helm, revealing her light brown hair and light eyes. She picked up her former companion's axe and placed it on his chest, folding his hands over it. "Dagar, I'll see you in Sovngarde, brother." Sigrid turned to Revak. "We'd come to get any prisoners out of this wretched place," she looked disheartened, "but I think we were too late."
"We need to get out of here before that damned dragon drops the entire keep on us. I told you I used to be sweet on a girl from here? She and I would meet in some caverns below the keep. I could get in without her parent's even knowing I was here. There might be a way to get in from here," Ralof suggested.
Revak shrugged. "Might as well try." He looked at the Sigrid. "You ready to go?"
She scoffed, "Me? Next Imperial I see is dead."
Revak tried to ignore that. "Good," he laughed quietly as they left the torture chamber behind them. Revak took the lead, the other two in tow. They found themselves in a winding hallway, and Revak guessed by the smell of dirt and water they were pretty deep underground.
"A little ways down there's another path, we came from there. It connects to the main hall, " Ralof explained.
Revak nodded as they continued. They were silent for a time, as they continued, until they reached and intersection of the tunnels. They continued, following Ralof's memory of the keep. It opened up into a doorway, leading down some small stairs and into small underground stream.
"Is this it?" Revak turned to Ralof.
"Must be," he said with a shrug, "I never knew how she got down into the caverns, just that they were there"
They followed the stream to a dead end, the only path being a small tunnel. "Guess we have to go that way," Revak said softly, "let's go."
The tunnel was too small for them to walk through normally. Instead they had to walk sideways, almost crawling along the wall. Luckily, that little tunnel was short and opened up into a large cavern; but something felt off. There was some weird sticky material along the walls and floor, and large sacks of something Revak didn't recognize were littered about, as well as the leftovers of animals. The three stood there silent for a moment. Revak drew his sword, as did the others draw their weapons. Just as they did three shapes fell from the cavern's ceiling.
Three frostbite spiders landed in front of them. They were large green and red beasts that were the size of a large dog. "Watch out for poison!" Revak cried as he dodged a spider that had charged him. He sidestepped the eight legged monstrosity and slashed at one of it's legs as it past; severing the leg from the body. The creature cried out in pain and lunged at Revak again, this time it jumped in the air. With a cry he slashed at it mid-air and the spider fell to the ground in front of him, cut nicely in half. The others dispatched their spiders, and the three stood catching their breath.
"I hate those things," Ralof grunted between breaths, "too many eyes you know?" Revak laughed as he wiped his blade clean and sheathed it. He was careful to avoid the webs they continued down the cavern, and into a large open area where they met the stream again. The water lead them to an opening. Revak smiled as he breathed in the scent of pine and fresh snow. They'd made it out.
They stood there, soaking in their freedom. "Thank the Nine we made it," Ralof said, as he turned to the others. "I wonder if Ulfric made it out."
"He's Ulfric! He shouted the high king to death. I'm sure he can survive a dragon attack," Sigrid said with a smile. "I mean we did."
Revak smiled, but then heard that the similar roar of the dragon once again. "Everyone DOWN!" he cried as he pushed the others to the ground just as a large black figure soared overhead. Revak checked and saw that the dragon was flying North and away.
"By the gods," Ralof whispered. They watched in silence as the dragon flew over the mountains and out of sight. A shiver went down Revak's spine, that had to have been Alduin. The only other dragon he'd seen that size was Akatosh himself. It was unnerving that he'd run into Alduin already. He wondered if the worm had noticed him. If he could sense him at all. It was an unsettling thought that he didn't know for sure.
Attn: Revamped, but not much. Previous readers will note that I combined two chapters here.
From this point onward there will be character switches, usually at least three per chapter. Though not regularly for about two chapters. Also there will new characters soon.
Note that in between perspectives there may be large time differences. Things might be happening at the same time, an hour later, or a week later. I'll tell you either in text or in notifications.
Also Talos will be known as 'Revak' from now on.
Gods and SweetsRalof and the others watched as the great black dragon flew East over the mountains and out of sight. "There he goes, looks like he's gone for good this time," he said as the dragon disappeared. Ralof was finally able to relax, if only slightly.
"Let me guess... Someone stole your sweet roll?"
- Skyrim Guard
Revak stood. "No way to know if anyone else made it out alive, huh?" he said softly.
Ralof shook his head. "No, and this place is going to be swarming with Imperials soon enough."
"Ralof, you and I need to return to Windhelm," Sigrid said as she stood, offering her hand to him. "We have to return to the Stormcloaks," Ralof took her arm and she pulled him to his feet. "They need to know what happened."
"Of course, " Ralof agreed. Their duty was to Skyrim, to Ulfric. They needed to notify Windhelm of the dragon attack. He prayed that Ulfric had made it out alive. "We'll stop in Riverwood first. My sister, Gerdur, runs the mill. We can get some supplies then head to Windhelm." He smiled at the thought of returning home. He had not seen Gerdur since he'd joined the rebellion. She'd be suprised to see him.
They reached the village before the sun set. The village's small stone wall greeted them. For the first time since before he could remember Ralof felt safe. The small town was quiet. Its few residents already returning home for their evening meals or to the tavern to relax. It was a quaint little place, chickens roamed freely, as well as dogs, and a few cattle in their pens. The sound of the river and mill were omnipresent, and the constant rushing sound of the river was relaxing in a way. It was his home. Ralof laid a hand on Revak's shoulder. "Welcome to my home, my friend, " he said. He pointed toward the mill. "Let's find my sister, she should be somewhere around the mill."
Then he headed toward the mill, Sigrid and Revak followed in tow. "Gerdur!" Ralof called as they made their way to the opposite side of the mill. He found his sister with her nose deep in a book. Ralof's heart stopped at the sight of his only sibling, the only thing he had left of his family thanks to the damn Thalmor. She saw Ralof and her face lit with a smile. She ran to Ralof and hugged him, tears threatening to fall from her eyes. She smelled like pine and lavender. "Brother! Mara's mercy! It's good to see you," she cried as she pulled away, "but is it safe for you here? I heard that Ulfric had been captured!"
Ralof smiled. "Don't worry Gerdur. I'm safe, at least I am now."
"What happened?" Gerdur stepped back and seemed to finally notice Sigrid and Revak. "And who's this?" she said as she looked them from head to toe taking in their haggard appearance.
"These are my friends," Ralof said. He pointed to Sigrid. "This is my comrade and fellow Stormcloak, Sigrid," Sigrid nodded, "and my friend Revak, he helped us escape."
"Welcome," Gerdur smiled. "Any friend of my brother is a friend of mine."
"Thank you," Revak said with a polite nod, "your welcome is much appreciated." Ralof smiled at Revak. Ralof knew a true Nord when he saw one. He couldn't help but wonder what his story was though. How had he walked into that ambush?
"Well then," she looked at the three, "you three look like you have quite the tale to tell."
Sigrid laughed. "You don't know the half of it."
Ralof pulled Gerdur aside. "Is there somewhere we can talk?" he said in a whisper. "No telling if the news of Helgen has reached the Imperials."
"Helgen?" she said, shocked. "Has something happened?" She looked at the three, when none were forthcoming she stepped back. "You're right, follow me. Just one moment." Then she turned. "Hod!" she shouted.
A large Nord man stepped out from beside the lumber mill. Ralof recognized his brother-in-law with a smile. "What is it woman? Sven drunk on the job again?"
"Hod, just come here," she said sharply. Without another word she led him to the group. Hod's eyes grew wide when he saw Ralof.
"Ralof!" he said, shocked. "What are you doing here!?" Gerdur motioned for silence. Without another word she led them to an outcropping near the side of her mill, where the sound of their voices would be drowned by the sound of the river. Hod turned to Ralof and embraced his brother-in-law roughly. "Now, Ralof, what's going on? You three look pretty well done in."
Ralof sighed and took a seat on large rock nearby, relieved to finally sit down. "I can't remember when I last slept..." Then Ralof began his tale, how his Stormcloak caravan had been ambushed by Imperial soldiers, how they'd been taking captive. Every now and then Sigrid would add to the story. Finally Ralof reached the attack at Helgen. "They had us lined up at the headsman's' block, all ready to start chopping-"
"Those cowards!" Gerdur interrupted.
"They wouldn't dare give Ulfric a fair trial," Ralof continued patiently. "Treason! For fighting for your own country! All of Skyrim would have seen the truth then, but then, out of nowhere, a dragon attacked."
Gerdur shook at the word 'dragon'. "You can't be serious, a dragon?"
"I can hardly believe it myself," Ralof confirmed, much to Gerdur's apparent dismay.
"As strange as it sounds," Sigrid said calmly, "we'd all be dead if that dragon hadn't attacked when it did. In the chaos we managed to slip away."
"Are we the first to make it to Riverwood?" Revak asked softly.
Gerdur shook her head. "No one else has come up the South Road today." Ralof's heart sank. He hoped Ulfric made it out. He cursed himself for not ensuring his chosen king's safety.
Sigrid stepped forward. "We need to lay low, maybe get some supplies for the trip back to Windhelm."
"You all are welcome to stay with us as long as you need to," Gerdur said with a smile, "and are free to take any supplies you need."
Ralof stood and hugged his sister. "Thank you, Gerdur."
With that Hod and Gerdur lead them to their home. They were given bed rolls while Gerdur prepared the evening meal. The smell of cooked beef made Ralof's mouth water. Over dinner they discussed their travel plans. "Let's stay the night, then we can make the journey to Windhelm tomorrow," Sigrid suggested.
"And what of you Revak?" Ralof asked as he opened a new beer. "You're not a Stormcloak, so you don't have to go back to Windhelm."
"I'm not sure. I suppose I am curious as to what's going to be done about this dragon."
"I thought you'd be. Look, I know you don't know us very well, but we need your help." Revak motioned for her to continue. "Riverwood doesn't have a standing guard force. We used to have a few guards from Whiterun, but they were forced to leave because of the Civil War. Whiterun needed all of its guards in case of an attack. But now, with these dragons, Riverwood is in danger." She took a breath. "Would you be willing to go to Whiterun tomorrow and request the Jarl return those soldiers to Riverwood?"
"Of course," Revak agreed. "I will journey to Whiterun in the morning."
Gerdur smiled. "Thank you, Revak, you don't know how much this means to us, to Riverwood."
"It's no trouble at all. I'm glad to help."
At that they finished their meal and prepared to sleep for the night.
Once everyone was asleep Revak opened his eyes. Slowly, he stood, keeping sure that Ralof and the others were soundly asleep. Revak gathered his things and, sneaking, he made his way to the door and slowly opened it and made his way outside. The cold night air bit his face as he made his way around the house and into the woods.
He walked for a time until he reached a clearing. Revak placed his things on the forest floor and stood in the center of the clearing. He gathered some sticks and bark and piled them in the center of the forest. He knelt down in front of the wood pile, and then focused on his inner life force; the magicka within, and using a flame spell his lit the pile, creating a small fire.
Revak sat before the fire, listening the cracks and pops of the flames. Reverently, Revak opened his pack and removed a sweet roll. "For the Divines," he said as he dropped it into the fire. Greedily, the flames ate away at the pastry. This was an old custom, giving sacrifices to the Divines, very old in fact it was old when Revak was a young man named Hjalti living in Skyrim. That was before he was even given the name Talos.
He closed his eyes tightly, hoping, praying, that the great dragon would somehow show himself and help him. Instead, the fire glowed softly and the air smelled faintly of burnt cinnamon. He was about to give up when suddenly there was a flash of light around him.
Blinking, Revak found himself in a world of white. He stood, taking in the environment around him. He noticed he was wearing his Divine Imperial Dragon armor. "Where am I?" he asked himself.
"No place in particular," said a deep voice behind him. Revak jumped and turned around, and found himself face to face with an old man in gold robes.
"Akatosh?" Revak said.
The old man nodded. "Yes," he said with a smile. "You always knew I had a weak spot for sweets."
Revak returned the smile as Akatosh motioned for Revak to walk with him. "What is it that you needed?"
"Guidance," Revak said harshly.
Akatosh stopped and shook his head. "Young Tiber, you know I cannot help you."
"I thought you wanted me to stop Alduin."
Akatosh nodded. "Yes, of course. But you know our rules. You are in the mortal world now, in a mortal body."
Revak cursed, but Akatosh held up a finger. "Language Dovahkiin. We cannot help you, you must help yourself."
Revak scowled. "That's terrible advice."
Akatosh smiled. "Exactly. I can't help you more than I already have. The others will be watching," Akatosh said quickly. "And our time here is nearing its end. Good luck, Tiber Septim."
Attn: Sweet roll? I know.
Revak whinced as he felt his mind returning to his body. Once he opened his eyes he was shocked that it was already morning. Faint trails of sunlight peeked through the canopy above, dew had coated him like a fine mist, and his small camp fire had gone out. He stood, ignoring the head rush as he reached his feet, and gathered his things and returned to the house.
By the time he got there Ralof and Sigrid were already packing their supplies on their horses and preparing to leave. Revak noticed a third horse had been tacked for him. It was Ralof who spotted him first. "Good morning, friend," he said as he placed the saddle on his horse. "I see you went for an early morning jaunt?"
"Helps clear the head," Revak grunted as he blinked in the early morning sunlight.
Ralof laughed. "We were just about to leave. I was worried you'd left us without a proper farewell!"
"Perish the thought," Revak said with a grin. He approached his horse. The brown mare was already fully tacked, and had supplies in the saddlebags.
"Did Gerdur set this all up?"
Ralof nodded. "She had to leave early to manage the mill, she said to wish you luck; and to take good care of Daisy."
Revak eyed his horse with a raised brow. "Daisy?"
"It's her flower of choice apparently," Ralof chuckled. With that all three mounted their horses and headed up the North road. They stayed together until they reached a crossroad. At that point Ralof and Sigrid waved as they continued East, leaving Revak moving Northwest to Whiterun.
In the distance he could see the towers of Dragonsreach hovering over the small hold of Whiterun. A half dozen farms littered the outside walls; one of the windmills was buzzing wildly in the afternoon wind. It had taken a few hours to reach the city, but he would still have plenty of time to see the Jarl if he kept moving at this pace. Urging Daisy forward he headed towards the city at a brisk, steady pace.
He left Daisy at the stables, then made the hike to the front gates. Two guards stood watch. As Revak approached the gates one stepped forward to receive him. "Halt! The city is closed to visitors," the guard said. His voice was muffled from beneath his helm yet it was still easy to notice his thick Nord accent. "What is your business in Whiterun?"
Revak lifted his hands to show he was not a danger. "I'm coming bearing news from Helgen."
"Helgen?" his voice seemed shocked.
Revak nodded slowly. "I need to speak to your Jarl as soon as possible."
"Understood," the guard said as he stepped back, "come and deliver your message, the Jarl will want to speak with you."
Upon entering the hold Revak was assaulted by the sights and smells of the busy city. Compared to Riverwood, Whiterun was buzzing hive of activity. Revak followed the guard as he weaved through the crowd as he headed uphill toward the large palace on the top. The large palace was a familiar site. Dragonsreach had been a mark on Skyrim's skyline for centuries. It was comforting for Revak to see something that was once so familiar.
Revak stayed close to the guard that was guiding him to the palace. "Is it true?" the guard asked as they made their way to the upper quarter, "that Helgen was destroyed by a dragon? A real dragon?"
Revak nodded solemly. "Yes."
The guard stopped and turned to Revak. "By the gods," he said shaking his head. "How are we supposed to defend ourselves against dragons?"
"We'll find a way to fight them."
The guard started walking again. "I hope so, bandits I can handle, but dragons?" He shook his head.
They were both silent as they scaled the steps to the entrance to Dragonsreach. Once they reached the heavy wooden doors, the guard stopped. "The Jarl is inside," he said stepping off the the side. "He will probably want to talk to you straightaway."
The guard banged on the heavy oak doors and they swung open. The inside of Dragonsreach was spectacular. It was known that it was one of the oldest palaces in Skyrim, but it also was the only one that was meant to house a captive dragon. A large banquet hall greeted him, two long tables surrounded a great hearth. The tables were bare for now, but during celebrations and special dinners the tables would be filled with dishes from all over Skyrim.
As Revak neared the throne he could not help but notice the Jarl seemed to be in deep conversation with his steward. A Dunmer in heavy armor stood at the Jarl's side, her hand was resting atop her sword's hilt. She took notice of Revak. With a scowl she drew her blade and approached Revak, the tip of her sword aimed at his heart. "What is the meaning of this interruption?" her accent was the thick accent of Morrowind. "Jarl Balgruuf is not receiving any visitors."
Revak held his hands up to show he meant no harm. "I've come from Riverwood," his voice was calm and steady. "I was at Helgen when it was attacked."
"Well," she said, eyeing him, "that explains why the guards let you in." She sheathed her blade. "Come on then, the Jarl will want to handle this personally," she turned and took her place at the Jarl's right hand side. Now the Jarl seemed to notice him. The Jarl was a middle aged man, a light haired nord, dressed in finery and wearing the crown of Whiterun, a simple golden circlet.
The Jarl leaned back in his throne. "So, you were at Helgen? You saw this dragon with your own eyes?"
"Yes, Jarl," Revak said, his voice low. "A black dragon attacked Helgen. The Imperials guarding it never stood a chance. As far as I know, no one else escaped." He wasn't going to mention Ralof, he wasn't sure about Balgruuf's alignment when it came to the Civil War.
The Jarl shook his head and leaned forward, resting his head on his folded hands. "By Ysmir, Irileth was right," he said softly. He turned to his Steward, a skinny, balding Imperial man. "What do you say now Proventius? Shall we continue to trust in the strength of our walls? Against a dragon?"
The dark elf, Irileth was her name Revak guessed, stepped forward, her hand ever on her blade. "My Lord, we should send troops to Riverwood at once. It's in the most immediate danger." She paused. "If that dragon is lurking in the mountains..."
Immediately, the Steward began to argue, something about someone taking it as an offensive, but then the Jarl stood, his fists clenched in rage. "Enough!" he shouted. "I'll not stand idly by while a dragon burns my hold and slaughters my people!" He collected himself and turned to his housecarl. "Irileth send a detachment to Riverwood at once."
"Yes my Jarl," the dark elf said evenly. She bowed to the Jarl, then left the hall, not before looking over Revak first.
The Steward was left fuming. "If you'll excuse me, I must return to my duties," he mumbled, beaten.
The Jarl returned to his thrown and sat, rubbing his eyes in frustration. "That would be best." The Steward left with a bow, leaving Revak alone in front of the Jarl. Revak was contemplating whether he should take his leave as well, when the Jarl sat up in his chair. He looked old for his age, Revak noticed. The Jarl sighed. "I sometimes question the competency of my steward."
Revak smiled. "Sometimes you need to have incompetents around to remind yourself how great you are."
Balgruuf returned the smile. "Well done, you sought me out, on your own initiative. You've done Whiterun a service, and I won't forget it."
"It was my honor, my lord."
"There is another thing you can do for me," the Jarl said as he stood. "Suitable for someone of your talents, perhaps?
Revak raised his eyebrows. "Yes?"
He motioned for Revak to follow. "Come let's go find Farengar, my court wizard. He's been looking to a matters related to these dragons and... rumors of dragons."
Revak followed the Jarl into a side room. It wasn't a large room, but it was cluttered with books, roots, plants, and numerous alchemical and other magical equipment. In the far corner a man stood at a desk, dressed in deep blue robes, hood up, he seemed to be mashing some sort of root with a mortar and pestle.
The Jarl cleared his throat and the robed man almost jumped out of his skin. He dropped the mortar, spilling a fine orange dust that when it made contact with the rug immediately set it afire. Panicking the robed man grabbed a pitcher of water and doused the flames, coughing from the smoke.
It looked like the Jarl was trying his best not to laugh. "Farengar," he half chuckled. "I think I found someone who can help you with your," he paused, " uh, dragon project." He pushed Revak forward. "Go ahead and fill him in with all the details.
Farengar brushed off the front of his robes. "So the Jarl thinks you can be of use to me?" he said, his voice sounded confused. By the sound of his voice Revak assumed that the man must be a Nord, which was odd, normally Nords don't do magic. Farengar shook his head as if clearing out cob webs. "Oh yes," he started with a smile, "he must be referring into the dragons." He began to pace about the room. "Yes I could use someone to fetch something for me."
Revak crossed his arms. "'Fetch'?"
"Well, when I say 'fetch', I really mean delve into a dangerous ruin in search of an ancient stone that may or may not actually be there."
"And this has to do with the dragons, how?"
Farengar seemed to ignore Revak's question. "You see, when the stories of dragon's began to circulate, many dismissed them as mere fantasies, rumors, Impossibilities. But I began to search for information about dragons – where had they gone all those years ago? And where were they coming from?"
Revak was beginning to get a little impatient. "Once again, what does this have to do with our current dragon problem?"
Farengar stopped pacing. "I, ah, learned of a certain stone tablet said to be held in Bleak Falls Barrow - a 'Dragonstone', said to contain the locations of dragon burial sites."
Farengar held up his hand. He headed toward a large pile of books and retrieved a map from the top. He opened it, and laid it on the table in front of the others, he pointed to the mountains West of Whiterun. "Go to Bleak Falls Barrow and retrieve the Dragonstone, find this tablet, no doubt interred in the central chamber- and bring it to me." He smiled. "Simplicity itself."
The Jarl stepped forward. "Succeed that this, and Whiterun will be in your debt."
Bleak Falls Barrow? If Revak wanted to venture into a ruin, this definitely wouldn't be one that he would be eager to go into. Bleak Falls Barrow was ancient even when he was last on Tamriel. It was named after a village that resided on top of the mountain during the time of the Dragon Wars. Bleak Falls was a village of dragon worshipers. The entire village was wiped out by a group of Dragonborn that supposedly Shouted the very walls down. Revak doubted that any Nord, even a Dragonborn could Shout a wall down. The Barrow remained a memory of those that died in the fight to take down the Dragon Priest and his worshipers. It was widely known that undead and numerous other dangerous creatures stalked the halls. It was so widely known that people started calling the Barrow 'City Under the Mountain'. It would be suicide to walk into the undead city. Revak shook his head. "I have no equipment, and I would be entering a haunted crypt, alone, in search of something that most likely isn't even there anymore."
Farengar held up a finger. "I never said, 'most likely isn't there'. I said, 'may or may not be there'.
Revak gave him a look. "There's a difference?"
The Jarl stepped forward and laid a hand on Revak's shoulder. "I will supply you and any companions with armor and weapons for the journey."
"Will you do this?" the Jarl asked.
Revak stared at the map. Taking risks was a necessity, but so was being cautious. It's a start. "Yes."
The Jarl clapped Revak on the back. "Ha! I knew there was a spine in you!" He reached into his coat and handed Revak a heavy sack. "That," he said pointing to the bag in Revak's hand, "and I'll give you armor from my personal armory."
"Thank you Jarl," he said, bowing slightly to the Jarl. He turned to Farengar. "I will return should I survive the Barrow; hopefully with your Dragonstone."
"And I think I know who is perfect to join you," the Jarl chuckled.
"Oh, come on sweet thing," the mercenary drolled on, "just a little tussle in the back."
Lydia cursed. "The answer was no the first time you asked, and I'm afraid it hasn't changed."
The hulk of a man stood, towering over Lydia. "Then maybe I should stop asking?"
Frustrated, Lydia set her drink down. "Bad idea." She stood with her fists balled at her sides. She knew she'd get in trouble for fighting again. But this time was different. Since when was defending herself from men like this oaf a crime? A crowd slowly gathered around, murmuring and placing bets.
"Oh, is it, little *****?" he said, stumbling as he approached her. "I think you should treat your betters with a little more respect."
"Maybe I should, when I see one I'll remember that."
"You *****!" he spat.
She smirked. "You're about as thick as skeever **** aren't you?" With a roar of rage he charged, hands outstretched and ready to grab her throat. Her smile was mischievious as the oaf of an Imperial lunged at her, but it set him off balance. She dodged him easily and he fell forward. The crowd laughed, enraging the drunken Imperial further, and he charged her again. She sidestepped him, grabbed his arm, and twisted. He fell, forced to the ground by his own momentum. Lydia stood over him, spit in his direction, and left, ignoring the hoots and hollars of the other patrons as she passed.
She grabbed a mead from the rack and took a seat in the table in the farthest corner as she watched the Imperial idiot attempt to stand. It was a comical sight. One that was blocked when someone in steel armor blocked her view. She stared at this new man. He was a Nord, not out of his twenties, with short blonde hair. Her eyes hovered for a moment over his dark blue eyes, then at the sword at the Nord's waist.
"Good fight," he said as he ordered a mead. "Where'd you learn how to fight?" Lydia stared at her drink, hoping that ignoring the man would make him go bother someone else. "Let's get to the point then? I'm doing some work for the Jarl, he's asked me personally. He's asked me to to into Bleak Falls Barrow and retrieve something. I leave tomorrow. I'm looking for someone to back me up."
She still didn't make eye contact. "So you're looking for someone to charge in first." Typical.
"Not really," he said, taken aback. "I just need someone to watch my back. It'd be easier as a group."
"What's in it for me?" she asked, taking a drink. She was interested. She was tired of the droll day to day life in Whiterun. She would at least give him a chance to explain himself.
"Let's see," he said as he scratched his chin, "a chance to get out of Whiterun and make a name for yourself for one, for two you might just help me defeat this dragon problem Skyrim's been having lately."
She finally looked at him. "You?" she smirked. "Fighting dragons?" She hardly believed that dragons had ever existed, let alone that a nearby village, Helgen, had been attacked by one. She found it even harder to believe that this man thought he stood a chance against them.
"Yes," he said with a smile. "I survived one dragon attack, I might as well try my luck again."
"You were at Helgen?"
He nodded, now serious. "It can't happen again, not to Whiterun, not anywhere."
"No," she agreed.
She was silent for a moment. "Yes."
Bleak Falls Barrow
"I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light."
― Helen Keller
Early the next morning Revak put on his new steel armor and went to meet Lydia near the Whiterun stables. Revak had briefed her on his task the night previous. Like him, she'd already donned her armor. The Jarl had arranged transport for them, at least to the base of the mountain. When she saw Revak coming down the hill she jumped into the carriage bed and waited for him. He joined her, and then the driver began down the path toward the mountains in the distance. The mountain was about a half day's journey away. The rode in silence as the sun rose. It had been an hour before Lydia broke the silence, "Who are you?" she asked, half shouting over the sound of the wheels.
"My name's-" Revak began.
"I know your name," she interrupted.
"I'm Revak," Revak said shortly, ignoring her rude response.
She looked at him. "What kind of name is that?"
Revak shrugged. "I don't know, some sort of lost, deep, meaningful language I suppose. It's not like I chose it." Her scowl grew. "What kind of name is 'Lydia'?"
She looked like she was really trying not to slap him. "It was my grandmother's name, thank you very much, Revkal."
"I know what it is," she said curtly. "So who are you that the Jarl sends you on special missions."
Again, Revak shrugged. "No idea, maybe just I was in the right place at the right time, that or that I survived Helgen."
They were quiet for a time, and then Lydia looked at him. "What happened there, at Helgen?"
"It was-" Revak shook his head. "One second I'm in line to get my head chopped off, the next I'm running away because a dragon is burning down the village."
She raised an eyebrow. "'To get your head chopped off'? You're a criminal?"
"Then why were you going to be executed?"
Revak sighed, More and more lies, at least I seem to be good at it. "I was traveling from Bruma to Skyrim, but I walked into an ambush meant for a group of Stormcloaks. The Imperials thought I was a Stormcloak, next thing I know an axe is threatening to make me a bit shorter."
They sat silent for the rest of the ride, when they reached the bottom of the mountain the driver left them alone. As they climbed they snacked on a few dry biscuits that the inn keep had given Revak before he left. It was a long and tiring climb; luckily an ancient path still existed for them to follow as they ascended into the sky. Underneath his armor Revak's skin itched, not because it was uncomfortable, it was a familiar feeling before a battle; at least to Revak. He'd felt the same way during the sack of Sancre Tor centuries ago.
The higher they climbed the colder it became; though it didn't seem to bother Lydia at all. Soon the grass was replaced by a decent blanket of snow, and the trees were no longer green. They knew they were close when the reached the point that there were no trees at all. It was then that Revak secured his iron shield to his arm. He advised Lydia to do the same, the ruin was known to be a lure for bandits. Revak didn't want to be taken unawares.
Four hours had passed before they were in front of the Barrow. It was a beautiful, yet terrible, sight. Dozens of stairs led up to a pavilion that was covered with great black arches. The ground was scorched from the many campfires of adventurers that had attempted to conquer the ruin and purge it of its undead and treasures. Looking back at Lydia, Revak donned his horned helm and drew his blade. Lydia drew her blade as well, and they cautiously began to climb the steps. Revak's breath was white as it escaped from under his helmet.
They reached the entrance with no trouble, but they found the doors ajar. "Bandits," Revak breathed. Lydia nodded. Revak rolled his shoulders. "Divines, grant us safe passage, and should we perish, lead us to Sovngarde," he prayed softly. He wasn't sure what would happen if he died. He guessed he'd just wake up back as a god. But the possibility that he would actually die made him nervous. He held his breath as they entered the Barrow.
The entrance was almost cave-like, the ruin having been buried much deeper into the mountain. Revak was staring at the sheer size of the cavern, when he heard Lydia call his name. "Look here," she said. She'd found the only source of light, a small fire was still burning, surrounded by a host of corpses. The kills were fresh, a mix of draugr and what most likely were a few foolish bandits who'd thought to warm up before entering the ruin.
"This is wrong," Revak growled as he scanned the carnage.
"What do you mean?"
"If something killed the bandits, it'd still be walking around," he explained, "but there's nothing here, a bandit survived."
Lydia stared at the door to her left, the one that lead further into the ruin. "And he went inside."
Revak stepped over a dead bandit. "Might as well follow."
Lydia gave him a small smile, she grabbed an unlit torch and lit it using the dying campfire. "Agreed," she said as the torch caught. Revak was grateful for the light as they descended into the ruin. They'd made it one level down, one of most likely many.
Revak caught Lydia give a shiver as they made it into the next level. "What's wrong?" he asked her.
"The walls," she said, reaching out and touching the stone wall, which Revak just noticed was covered in white goo. "Webs," she cursed. "Spiders. I hate those things."
Revak tried not to laugh. "Then show them how much you hate them when we run into them."
"How did you end up doing this job anyways?" Lydia asked suddenly.
Revak smiled. "I have no idea," he explained. "I guess the Jarl just trusted me."
"Must be nice," Lydia scoffed. "I've been trying to get him to recognize me for years."
Revak stopped, looking at her gently. "He suggested you for this quest. I think he already recognized you, just that there wasn't a job important enough for you to do."
"That's one way to put it," she laughed lightly.
"At least-" Revak paused mid sentence as he heard a noise somewhere down the hall. He motioned to silence. He hadn't heard just a noise, it was a voice.
Revak tilted his head toward the sound of the noise, Over there. Lydia nodded. They made their way down the hall toward the voice; it seemed to be talking to itself. They followed the hall into a large chamber coated in white slime. Egg sacks and large webbing that hung from the ceiling. Across the room there was an Argonian that had been woven into a web, trapped midair. "Damn eight legged bugs," he was cursing. Then he saw Revak and Lydia across the room. "HEY!" he screamed as if they hadn't seen him. "Get me out! Hurry, before they come back!"
Revak almost wanted to ask 'Before what comes back?', but he was answered before he even had a chance to ask. A wave of spiders descended upon them, screeching as they landed and launched attacks. Revak assumed a defensive position, his shield side in front as the first few of the spiders attacked him, the first two collided with his shield and Revak knocked them back with ease. One shot a stream of webbing at his head, Revak ducked, but as he did a spider took the opportunity to climb onto is back.
"GET OFF!" Revak shouted as he threw himself backwards and into the wall, smashing the spider that still clung to his armor. Revak repeated to slam himself into the wall until he heard a satisfying screech and the weight fell off his back. He slashed at a spider in front of him, slicing off half its legs, it was screeching as it crawled away on its remaining limbs. Catching his breath he saw Lydia in the middle of the room, fending off five spiders at once as she wielded her sword in one hand and a torch in the other.
With a roar Revak charged the group, quickly dispatching two of the spiders, while Lydia had set another two on fire. The final spider backed away, but Revak chopped it in half before it could flee.
Revak shook the blood from his blade, spattering the wall with a pattern of blood. He dropped his shield and felt his head and the back of his neck making sure there was no blood or bite marks. "Are you okay?" he asked Lydia, who was busy setting the egg sacks on fire.
"I'm fine," she said. She pointed at the Argonian still trapped in the webs. "What about him? Should we leave him there?"
"I can hear you, you know!" the Argonian shouted.
Revak shook his head. "No, leaving him here is wrong. Who knows how many of those things are down here?" He walked over the Argonian. He was of a decent height and wearing leather armor. The green tint to his scales told Revak that he was a youth.
"I'm going to free you," Revak said as he drew the dagger he kept sheathed at his belt, "and you're going to leave this place and not come back."
"Yes, yes," the Argonian bandit pleaded, "just let me out of here!" Revak began cutting away at the webbing, and in a few minutes the Argonian was free. Revak took a step back as the Argonian stood and brushed himself off. "Thank you stranger." Next thing he knew the Argonian had a dagger in his hand. "Too bad I have to kill you now."
"Fool of a lizard," Revak heard Lydia curse.
Revak stood tall. "Really? We just cut down a bunch of spiders that you couldn't even defend yourself against, and you dare to threaten us?"
The Argonian shrugged. "It's just business."
Revak sighed, and then he used his open hand to punch the Argonian in the stomach, followed by a hilt to the wrist holding the dagger. The Argonian's blade fell to the ground. Before the Argonian could retaliate Revak had grabbed him by the neck and lifted him off the ground. He held the Argonian there for a few seconds. "I'm going to let you down," Revak said slowly, "and you're going to leave, or next time, I won't be so nice."
The Argonian whimpered. Revak lowered him to the ground. Scrambling the Argonian got to his feet and sprinted to the exit. Revak turned and picked up his shield from where he'd dropped it. "I would have just killed him." Lydia commented.
Revak shook his head. "He was nothing but a fool; that shouldn't be a death sentence." He rolled his shoulders. "Come on, let's get this Dragonstone and let's get out of here."
As they walked Revak kept his blade ready and his shield up. Lydia covered his back, her torch lighting the hall and making the walls dance with their own shadows. The walls were lined with multiple little hubs, each containing a standing draugr. None of them were moving now, but they stayed as quiet as possible lest they wake the sleeping dead.
They followed the hall into a small chamber. An altar sat in the middle, and door on the opposite side of the room lead to yet another hall and beyond. They made their way across the room slowly. Revak froze when he heard a soft click coming from behind him. He turned and saw Lydia's face had turned white. Then he heard a growling coming from the hall they'd just passed. Lydia turned and now Revak could see a silhouette in the frame of the hall.
"S***," he cursed as he guarded Lydia's side. The draugr carried an axe and charged blindly with it. Revak caught it with his shield, and, spinning knocked the weapon back. He then slashed the draugr, opening its chest. The undead slowed, and then Revak dislodged its head from its body.
Two more draugr came from the hall. Luckily for Revak and Lydia the hall acted like a sort of fatal funnel, preventing both draugr from attacking at once. Lydia set one's arm ablaze with the torch before removing its head. The next one Revak bashed with his shield and then cut almost cleanly in half.
"Thanks," Lydia murmured.
Revak smiled. "You get my back, I get yours right?" She returned his smile. They followed the next tunnel which happened to lead to the central chamber. A waterfall could be heard across the large cavern like chamber, stairs lead to a large wall and altar that loomed above. If this Dragonstone is anywhere, Revak thought, it's there. Lydia followed him as he climbed the stairs. There was a pedestal, a sarcophagus, and of course a large curved wall with some sort of carvings. Curious, Revak approached the wall. The language written on it definitely wasn't Common. The language of the dragon's covered the wall. Most of it was unrecognizable to Revak, except for three words Revak recognized as a Shout he once knew very well.
Fus ro dah.
Unrelenting Force, the Shout that was said to tear down walls and siege entire cities; of course the words for that particular Shout were here. Revak remembered that each Shout consisted of three words in the language of the dragons. Revak murmured the words to himself, but to no effect.
"I bet the tablet you're looking for is in here," Lydia said behind him. Revak turned and saw she was pointing to the sarcophagus. It makes sense, he thought.
Revak dropped his shield and sheathed his blade, and then he pushed as hard as he could against the top of the sarcophagus. Heavy as it was it took Revak some time in getting it off. A few minutes later the top slid across and landed on the ground on the opposite side with a thud. Once the dust cleared a heavily decorated draugr was revealed inside. Underneath its crossed hands was a stone tabled covered in the Dragon Language.
Carefully, Revak removed the tablet. As soon as it cleared the area of the body Revak heard a loud growl, and the very air seemed to still. "Lydia?" Revak said softly.
"Can you hold this?" Revak said holding out the tablet. Lydia nodded and took the tablet as the draugr lord rose from the tomb.
It was larger than the other draugr they'd run into. It stood and drew a large battle axe that was black and wicked. Revak picked up his shield and drew his blade. "Divines guide me," he whispered.
The draugr didn't charge instead it seemed to puff its chest. No! Revak said to himself. He was about to tell Lydia to back away when the draugr opened his mouth and Shouted, "RO DAH!"
Lydia screamed as she flew backwards and landed on her back. Revak stumbled as he was knocked off balance, kept on his feet only because he saw the Shout coming. The draugr lord then charged his blade high above its head. Revak caught it on his shield as it came down. The strike was so powerful it dented the shield; bruising Revak's arm. Cursing, Revak jumped aside as the draugr attacked again, missing Revak by inches.
Revak swung at the monster's legs, striking its calf. It growled in anger and swung again, and again Revak dodged this time slashing at its other leg as he did so. The draugr staggered and Revak took the opening to slash at its throat. Its head severed from its body and it fell to the ground and started to turn to dust.
Gasping for breath Revak threw his damaged shield down in frustration. He jogged to Lydia and helped her up. "Are you all right?" She nodded, still clutching the stone.
Grabbing Lydia's hand with his uninjured arm, he led her up the stairs and to the secondary exit. They found themselves outside again, the bitter cold greeting them. Happy to find that they were much lower on the mountain than the entrance had been.
Two hours later they had made their way to the base of the mountain where they found the carriage had returned. Revak greeted the driver and helped Lydia board. He couldn't wait to get back to Whiterun.
It was nearly midnight by the time they arrived at Whiterun. Revak and Lydia thanked the driver as they entered the citys' main gate. The streets were quiet as most of its citizens had already went to sleep for the night. Only the tavern seemed to still be alive. It glowed in the night as its patrons drank the night away. Tired and cold, they made their way to Dragonsreach. Revak now clutching the Dragonstone.
The ascended the steps, nodding to the guard as they entered the palace. Revak had thought that he would have to wake the wizard, but as they neared the door he noticed light coming from the room, and hushed voices. Revak held up his hand, motioning for Lydia to stop, and listened to the soft voices coming from the wizards working quarters.
"You see? The terminology clearly is First Era, or even earlier. I'm convinced this is a copy of a much older text. Perhaps dating to just after the Dragon War," the wizards voice said excitedly. "If so, I could use this to cross reference the names with much later texts."
"Good," said another voice, a woman's. "I'm glad you're making progress. My employers are anxious to have some tangible answers." Employers? Revak wondered.
"Oh have no fear." Revak could almost imagine Farengar shaking in excitement. "The Jarl himself has finally taken interest. So I'm now able to devote most of my time to this research."
"Time is running Farengar, don't forget," the woman's voice said sternly. "This isn't some theoretical question. Dragons have come back."
"Yes, yes, don't worry," Farengar said more calmly. "Although the chance to see a living dragon up close would be tremendously valuable..." Farengar trailed off then seemed to have caught himself. "Now, let me show you something else I have-"
"We have a visitor," the woman said quickly, stopping Farengar mid sentence. Blast, how did she know we were here? Sighing Revak walked in, a faux smile on his face.
"Hmm?" Farengar mumbled, then he saw Revak. He stared for a moment before recognizing him. "Ah yes! The Jarl's new protegé? Back from Bleak Falls Barrow? You didn't die, it seems," he said smiling.
Revak returned the smile. "No, it seems I didn't." Revak held the stone out. "I believe you wanted this?" Revak laid the stone gently on the table in front of Farengar.
Farengar smiled widely when he saw the stone. "Ah! The Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow! Seems you are a cut above the usual brutes the Jarl sends my way." Revak made note not to take that personally.
"My... associate here will be pleased to see your handiwork. She discovered it's location, by means she has so far declined to share with me." Farengar gave a slight glare to the woman. Revak was very curious as to who she and her 'employers' were.
Revak wasn't going to wait for her to introduce herself. "I'm sorry," he said politely, "I believe we haven't met?"
She didn't look up from the stone. "No, I don't believe we have."
Farengar cleared his throat, and turned to the woman. "So your information was correct after all. And we have our friend here to thank for recovering it." He nodded to Revak.
She looked at Revak, and raised her brows, seemingly noticing him for the first time. "You went into Bleak Falls Barrow? And got that? Nice work."
Revak smiled. "Thanks, and Lydia here is to thank as well."
The woman smiled. "You too, Lydia." Lydia bowed slightly, staying silent.
The woman returned to Farengar. "Just send me copies and-"
She was interrupted by Irileth who was literally sprinting into the room. "Farengar!" All of them were silent. "Farengar," she said breathing heavily, as a small group of guards followed her in.
"What's going on, Irileth?" Lydia asked, her face concerned.
"Farengar, you need to come at once. A dragon's been sighted nearby!" she said quickly.
All of them stood there, shocked. "What?" Revak said, almost not believing that Alduin would attack so soon after Helgen.
"A dragon! How exciting! Where was it seen? What was it doing?" Farengar said excitedly, nearly jumping up and down where he stood.
Irileth must have picked up on this. "I'd take this a bit more seriously if I were you," she said, shaking her head. "If a dragon decides to attack Whiterun I don't know if we can stop it."
Revak took a few steps forward. "There has to be a way," he said with a hint of a growl. "Everything dies."
"Then you'd better come with us."
Revak smiled. "Wouldn't have it any other way."
Who was kin to both wyrm and the races of man,
With a power to rival the sun!
Revak thought he caught a hint of a smile on Irileth's stern face. "Come on then, the Jarl will speak with us first."
With a nod Revak followed, Farengar and Lydia in tow. They found the Jarl in his personal quarters. He was already speaking with a guard. "So Irileth tells me you came from the Western Watchtower?" he asked the guard calmly.
The guard was obviously shaken. He nodded since words were obviously failing him. Irileth made her way inside, and laid her hand softly on the guards shoulder. The guard jumped at her touch. She slowly moved in front of him and kneeled down. "Tell him what you told me," she said softly, "about the dragon."
He nodded slowly and took a deep breath. "We saw it coming from the South," he shook where he seat. "It was fast... faster than anything I'd ever seen."
"What did it do?" the Jarl asked quickly. "Is it attacking the watchtower?"
The guard continued to shake his head. "No, my lord. It was just circling overhead when I left. I never ran so fast in my life." He shook even more, he leaned forward, his head resting on his hands. "I thought it would have come after me for sure."
The Jarl smiled and offered the guard his arm, the guard took it and stood, albeit shakily. "Good work, son. We'll take it from here. Head down to the barracks for some food and rest. You've earned it." The guard nodded and took his leave.
The four of them all stood in silence, the Jarl stared at Irileth. "Don't fail me."
Iritleth stood tall. "I won't, my lord."
The Jarl turned to Revak. "I would like you to join Irileth at the watchtower," he said.
Revak nodded. He turned and made his way out from the keep, noting that Lydia followed him. "You don't have to come," Revak said to Lydia as he accepted a new shield from a guard.
"Ha," Lydia scoffed, "and let you take all the glory?"
Revak laughed as they began to move out. The watchtower was relatively close to the city. They could see it in the distance. Only the sound of armored footsteps could be heard in the darkness of the night. As they got closer to the tower it became more and more apparent that the dragon had already attacked. The smell of burned grass, flesh, and wood greeted them. They could see the glows of the fires still burning surrounding the tower. The group paused for a moment, taking in the scene, Irileth turned to her soldiers. "Search for survivors!" she commanded.
The guards scattered, looking for any who may have survived the attack. Revak made his way to the tower entrance, and then jumped back as a sword nearly cleaved him in two. A man dressed in Whiterun's colors guarded the door, waving his sword wildly. Revak grabbed the man's arm and steadied him. "Calm yourself," Revak said, looking into the man's eyes.
It took a moment, but he soon stopped shaking enough to speak, by this time Irileth and Lydia had joined them. "It's still here!" the guard gasped. "It's going to come back!"
"The dragon?" Irileth cursed. "What do you mean it's still here-"
"DRAGON!" they heard a guard scream behind them. All three of them turned, and sure enough in the distance a large dark shaped was coming, and fast.
Revak drew his blade. "ARCHERS!" Irileth cried and she herself drew her bow, Lydia had her bow as well.
The dragon came in for a first attack, fire streaming from it's maw. It burned two guards where they stood, and for good measure the beast grabbed another in his jaws and crushed him with a sickening sound; dropping the guards' mangled body on the ground near his comrades. Then it turned and flew out of range again, gaining distance to return for another strike.
Between the screams and the sounds of the fire it was impossible to hear oneself speak, let alone think. Revak turned to Irileth, shouting to make sure he was heard. "We need to get it to land," he said pointing at the dragon for emphasis, "or we'll never take it down!" She nodded that she understood him. Their arrows were only bouncing off the dragon's scales.
Revak watched as the dragon turned and came back for it's second attack. Revak was furious, he could do no damage to it where he stood. The tower, he thought, if it won't come to me, I'll go to it. Without a second thought Revak turned to the tower, ignoring Lydia's protests. He raced up the steps until he reached the roof. He watched as the dragon flew out of range again.
He needed to get its attention. Akatosh guide me, he thought as he raised his blade high above his head, making himself a target. "COME AND GET ME, WORM!" he shouted as the dragon grew near. The dragon roared so loud that Revak's ears began to ring. The dragon opened his mouth and let loose a stream of flame directed at Revak. Revak dodged, but he barely got his shield up in time. The dragon's fire was too intense and it burnt the shield, making the metal burn and the wood crack. Revak threw the now useless shield down with a curse. The dragon must have decided that Revak wasn't a worthy enough target. It turned and came back for a fourth charge, this time turning around the tower and going once again for the guards firing arrows below.
My chance, Revak thought as he charged the edge of the tower, and he leaped over the edge with a savage cry. His sword over his head he plummeted onto the dragon's back. The dragon roared in protest as the weight of the Nord crashed onto its back. Revak struggled to steady himself one handed as the dragon flew erratically trying to throw him off. He heard the dragon speaking underneath it's roars, "Niid! Dannik joor! Hin niis krii ann dovah!"
Revak had no idea what the beast was screaming, but he assumed that it was something that he didn't want to happen. "Not today worm!" he cried as he lifted his blade and sunk it into the dragon's wing.
"Niid!" the beast seemed to scream as blood poured from it's wing. It lost control, spinning and crashing into the tower before dive bombing toward the ground head first. It was all Revak could do to hold on as the beast crashed, parting through the earth like water. Finally, the dragon stopped, but Revak could still feel it breathing. It's stunned, he thought. He stood and half walked, half crawled to the dragon's head; at this point it seemed to have noticed Revak's intent. It began thrashing and twisting it's head back and forth in an attempt to throw Revak off. Revak held with all his strength.
He grabbed the beast's horn and hefted himself into a more steady position. Lifting his sword once again he aimed for a soft point between the end of the dragons' skull. The beast roared in pain as Revak buried his blade deep in the dragons' skull, and soon the dragon moved no more.
Panting, Revak let himself fall to the ground, a welcome rest, but rest would have to wait. He stood, his muscles screaming in protest, and he took in the site of the dead beast before him; a dragon that had been killed by his hand. He heard the others gathering behind him, their heavy footfalls announcing their arrival. Revak looked into the dragons' open and ungazing eye, but once he did he felt a strange sensation. He gasped as he felt a rush of energy enter his body, not only energy, but memories.
Skyrim as seen from above, a name... Mirmulnir, "Alligiance-Strong-Hunt", sent to scout and destroy the city of Whiterun and it's Dragonsreach trap. Words, so many words, an entire existence in language.
Fus Ro Dah.
Force, Balance, Push.
The power of the dragon, the unrelenting force of the Shout. The power of the Dovahkiin who was reborn.
Lydia watched as Revak leapt from the watchtower and onto the dragon's back. She stood, frozen, her bow still notched and ready to fire, but she held back, fearing she'd strike the man riding on the dragon's back. The dragon tried to throw him off, twisting and turning in the air so violently that she was sure that Revak would be sent to his death, but he held on. She heard a great roar as a trail of deep red blood poured from the beast's wing and it began to crash back to earth.
The beast tore the earth apart when it landed, and Revak wasted no time in scurrying to the beasts head and sinking his blade into its' neck. Lydia's heart seemed to stop as Revak fell from the dragon and onto the ground. She nearly sprinted to him, but she breathed a sigh of relief when he stood and stared at the dragon.
Suddenly, a bright yellow light formed around both the dragon and Revak. Then white, then orange, colored lights spiraled around the both of them. The dead dragon's eyes glowed and so did Revak's with a deep gold color, then, after a few minutes it was dark again, but gold mist slowly rose from Revak's body; like a steam made of gold. Slowly, Lydia and the guards made their way towards Revak, their swords still drawn and ready to encounter whatever had just happened to the man that was supposed to be their friend.
One of the guards fell to his knees, his eyes tearing. "He's a Dragonborn!" the man cried. The others froze at the word, so did Lydia. Dragonborn? she thought, But that can't be. But then she looked back, the way he killed the dragon, like he knew what he was doing, the lights, those eyes. Dragonborn? The warriors of the old legends?
Another guard fell to his knees. "The Dragonborn have returned to Skyrim!" Revak still stood with his back to them, his glittering energy still coming off of him.
That's when she realized. He knew. That's when she remembered that old song, the one that talked of the Dragonborn returning. She still couldn't believe.
Then as if reading everyone's minds Revak raised his head and stared at the stars, breathed in deeply, and then he Shouted. His voice echoed off the mountains, and a huge stream of energy blasting into the sky and making the very ground rumble, "FUS RO DAH!"
When it was over Revak had to fight the urge to fall forward. His muscles screamed in agony from the impact of landing on the dragon's back, but inside Revak was elated. He had Shouted! His Voice had returned, and he'd killed a dragon!
The Dragon War had ended before Talos was even born. He never had a chance to fell a dragon. Instead he learned his Shouts through the Greybeards, and, through them, their leader Paarthurnax. He stood listening to his first Shout as it echoed amongst the mountains; a smile radiating from him.
The others had begun cheering, all except for Lydia. She stood in front of Revak frozen where she stood. Irileth calmed her guards, threatening double shifts for those who weren't eager to stop their cheering. "Enough," the Dark Elf said, as she took a place beside Revak so that she could address her guards more directly, "we've got work to do." She sighed. "Hadvir?"
One of the guards stepped forward. "Yes M'am?"
"Return to Whiterun, I want a triple of guards here within the hour," she said darkly. "We need to clean up this mess." The guard raised his fist to his chest in a salute then ran back toward the city.
Revak's smile disappeared. Only now did he notice the carnage that the dragon had left in its wake. Only one of the original guards stationed at the tower had survived, and of the twelve that arrived with Irileth five hadn't made it. Revak was grateful that their souls would surely be welcomed in Sovngarde, but then Revak's heart sank. They may never reach the Hall of Heroes. Alduin could snatch their souls before they reached the fabled Hall.
Revak turned to Irileth. "Let us gather the fallen and see them to rest." Irileth nodded solemnly, and then began commanding the remaining soldiers to begin gathering the bodies of the dead. Revak felt rather than saw Lydia's eyes staring at him. He stepped toward her and attempted to put a hand on her shoulder, but she shied away. "Are you all right?" Revak said with concern. She didn't answer. With a sigh Revak left her and was about to help the others carry the bodies.
"You knew," he heard Lydia's voice behind him.
Revak turned. "Sorry?"
She stepped toward him now, pointing at Revak. "You knew you were Dragonborn."
"That's ridiculous," Revak said with a sigh, "you should rest. We haven't slept in days, and after all this you must be exhausted."
"Excuse me?" she said in offense. She shook her head. "You knew."
Revak started walking toward a guard who was having a hard time lifting one of the fallen. "This is hardly the time." Revak grabbed the feet of the body while the guard lifted the upper body. They carried it over to the others where Irileth was having the guards line the fallen in a row. Revak closed the fallen guard's eyes. "Find peace in Sovngarde brother," Revak said. Avoid the wings of the worm and find the gilded Hall, he said silently. He felt Lydia still standing behind him. "We will speak another time, for now let us finish here and respect the honored dead." She still stared at him, he smiled. "Don't make me Shout."
They worked until the sun was rising over the mountains. Overnight a wagon had arrived from the city. They gathered the dead and lead a march back to Whiterun, a triple acting as an honor guard to see the fallen to the Hall of the Dead. Lydia and Revak were at the tail end of the small guard. Even so, once they made it through the gates it became apparent that the entire hold had heard of the events of the night as the citizens lined the road leading to the Hall of the Dead. As Revak passed he caught the sound of hushed voices and the sight of eyes darting away from him. Revak had hoped he would be able to leave the city quietly in the night, but apparently the word of a Dragonborn spread faster than even a dragon could fly.
The local priest of Arkay dressed in black robes greeted the guard as they arrived at the Hall. As the dead were carried underground the priest's arms were raised and his mouth moved, repeating ancient prayers to lead the souls of the dead warriors to Sovngarde. Once all the dead were delivered the citizens and guards departed, save for the families of the fallen who grieved outside the gates of the Hall of the Dead.
Revak watched the mourning for a moment, then, his heart heavy, he turned right and headed down the road toward the great white tree, and near it, the statue that represented Talos; that represented him. With a sigh he stretched, his muscles screaming in protest. He walked to the stream and looked at his own reflection and did a double take. This was the first time he'd really gotten a chance to see himself. He looked as he had when he was a young man. His blond hair cropped short, his eyes deep blue; his features were fair and defined, at least for a Nord, even though he was covered in dirt and muck. Stubble had already started to grow on his face making his face look a little rough. Revak removed his gauntlets and used the cool water to rinse the dirt and blood from his arms, neck and face.
Revak sat on the bench in front of the was no one in sight. He stared at himself. Well, not really himself, but what the Nords envisioned him as. Anywhere you go in the Empire they have a different vision of Talos, or a different name. The Nords called him Talos or Ysmir, the Imperials know him as Tiber Septim, there are even a few who might recognize him as Wulf. The statue of Ysmir before him showed a strong Nord with a large beard and wearing a winged helm. In truth, Ysmir wasn't him, but one of his subjects; his ambassador to Skyrim when the Empire was still new. Centuries muddled the truth. Eh, he sighed, Ysmir, you old bastard, you deserve a little recognition anyways.
Revak leaned forward and rested his head in his hands. The fatigue of recent events now consuming him, how many had died all ready from Alduin's rage? First Helgen, and now the watchtower. How many would it be in the end? He kept returning to the tower, if he'd killed Mirmulnir, for he now understood that to be the dragon's name, earlier would more guards have survived? Even one more? And now Lydia suspected him, of what he wasn't even sure. She suspected that he knew he was Dragonborn already, which is true, but he's also so much more than that. Did he dare trust telling any mortals? He shivered even though the word hadn't been said aloud. It felt wrong calling them mortals; wasn't he one of them at one point? He didn't even know the extent of this body's power. So far he'd been able to Shout, but it was not as powerful as he'd hoped, nor was it as powerful a Shout as the ones that he had summoned in his previous life. As of yet he hasn't displayed any sort of godly power; at least he hadn't made something float in the air.
He jumped slightly as he felt a rain drop on his neck, then another, within a few minutes a steady downpour began, Revak stood, thinking to find shelter when suddenly it stopped, but the sky was still black with clouds. He heard thunder boom causing the ground to shake slightly, then he heard a voice, no not one voice but many, voices that seemed to be coming from the sky itself, a voice saying one word clear and strong, "DOVAHKIIN!"
He should have seen it coming.
Niid! Dannick joor! Hin niis krii ann dovah! - No! Doomed mortal! You cannot kill Dragon kind!
Niid - No
Fus Ro Dah - Force-Balance-Push (Unrelenting Force Shout)
With Friends Like These
"I will hurt you for this. I don't know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you'll know the debt is paid."
― George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
She watched sadly as the procession ended. So many dead, and that was one dragon, and one that they killed before it could reach the city. How much damage could a dragon do when it reached the city? It was a thought she didn't want to let linger. And what had happened with Revak? Was he really Dragonborn? Could such a thing even be possible? She heard the sound that rumbled down the mountains, the voices, calling Revak to the monastary above. If the Greybeards thought him Dragonborn... but there was something off about that. There was something about the way he fought that dragon, the way he stood there while he took in that strange energy. She thought back, to all the fights they had in the Barrow. Was it possible that he knew something already? It was infuriating that he would keep anything from her, especially something as important as being Dragonborn.
"Their sacrifice will not be forgotten," said a voice behind her. She turned and saw the Jarl's personal housecarl, Irileth, standing there.
"Good," Lydia murmured. When Irileth didn't say anything more Lydia looked at her. "What's going on?"
"I just spoke with the Jarl," she said in an official tone. "He has decided to make Revak the Thane of Whiterun." Lydia nodded, she'd figured as much. The Jarl's housecarl continued, "He will need a housecarl, someone to guard his property and his life it it comes down to it."
Irileth scowled. "So, I am offering you the position."
Lydia stared. "What?" Housecarl? Her?
"It is an great honor to be offered such a chance to serve your hold," Irileth said proudly. But there was something in her eyes. Something that told Lydia that she didn't really have a choice in the matter.
So, he thought as he turned and searched for the great mountain, the tallest mountain in Skyrim and, atop it, High Hrothgar, the Greybeards finally have called me? Revak remembered an era ago when he was first called to High Hrothgar. Revak rolled his shoulders and sighed. Everything seemed to be falling into place. The attack on Helgen, the dragon at the watchtower, and now the Greybeards were aware of his presence. It was like a Dwarven machine that had been thrown into motion, and there was no stopping it.
He shook his head and turned from the town was coming to life. The citizens had already begun their day. He rubbed the back of his neck, his head pounding from lack of sleep and over exertion. He nearly jumped when he heard his name from behind him. He turned to see a guard. Revak remembered him as Hadvir, the one Irileth had sent back to the city earlier. "Dragonborn?"
Revak gave a soft smile. "I guess that'd be me then?"
"The Jarl has requested your presence," Hadvir said shortly.
Revak's smile disappeared from his face. "Very well then." He followed the guard to the palace. When he arrived he found the Jarl, Irileth, and a man in heavy armor in a heated discussion with the steward. The steward held up his hand and approached Revak. "Good, you're finally here. The Jarl has been waiting for you."
The Jarl continued speaking with the armored man. "You heard the summons. What else could it mean?" He shook his head in reverence. "The Greybeards..." he stopped when he noticed Revak standing there.
The man in armor stepped forward, his eyes on Revak. "We were just talking about you. My name's Hrongar. My brother needs a word with you."
Silence, then the Jarl sat down. "So," he began, never taking his eyes off Revak, "what happened at the watch tower, was the dragon there?"
"I think you already know, my Jarl," Revak said stiffly. "When we arrived at the watchtower we found it already had been attacked by the dragon. The beast returned a few moments later. It was destroyed and the watchtower was saved."
Bulgraaf nodded in awe. "I knew I could count on Irileth, but there must be more than that."
Revak hesitated as he formed the words, "I'm Dragonborn."
The Jarl's eyes grew wide. "Dragonborn? What do you know about the Dragonborn?"
"Enough it seems," Revak said steadily.
"So it's true," the Jarl said as he shook his head. "I can't believe it. Can you shout?" Revak nodded.
"By the gods," Hrongar said, shaken, "a Dragonborn!"
The steward stepped forward, shaking his head. "Hrongar, calm yourself: What does any of this Nord nonsense have to do with our friend here?"
"Excuse me?" Revak almost growled. "As a Nord I think this 'Nord nonsense' has quite a lot to do with me, Imperial." Shocked the steward closed his mouth and said no more. Good, Revak thought, I've had enough of this sorry man for a lifetime.
Balgruuf could hardly hold back his smile. "It's all right, Avenicci, but I think we Nords hold our own traditions and history a little more important than an Imperial would. I think its best you return to your quarters." The steward nodded and backed away. Inside, Revak smiled, he could almost see the Imperial's tail hanging between his legs in defeat.
The three Nords were silent, it was Revak who spoke first, "The Greybeards have called me to their mountain. I cannot refuse their summons."
The Jarl stared at Revak. "I know, Dragonborn, I know. I envy you, you know. To climb the seven thousand steps again," he paused, lost in thought. "I made the pilgrimage once, did you know that?"
"No, my lord, I didn't."
The Jarl smiled. "Go to High Hrothgar, Dragonborn, and see the Greybeards. But first..." He stood, and drew the silver sword at his belt. "Kneel."
Revak knelt before the Jarl and bowed his head as the Jarl stood before him with his blade at his side. "You've done a great service for my city, Dragonborn." He then laid his sword on Revak's shoulder. "By my right, as Jarl of Whiterun, I name you, Revak," he said moved the blade to Revak's other shoulder, "Thane of Whiterun. You may stand, my Thane."
Revak nodded. "Thank you, my Jarl."
Balgruuf smiled. "It is the greatest honor I can give you. Also," he then reached into his robes, and offered a small silver key to Revak. Revak took it and studied it. It was obviously a house key. "There is a home available here in the city. I'd like you to have it. It's called Breezehome. You'll find it furnished and ready for you."
"Thank you, my Jarl," Revak said as he pocketed the key and smiled. "It is a generous gift, truly, thank you."
"I have also taken the liberty to appoint you a housecarl."
"Housecarl, my lord?"
"Yes." Balgruuf nodded. "I've appointed Lydia as your personal housecarl. She will guard your home and yourself if the need arise."
"Again thank you, my Jarl," Revak bowed. Lydia? He wondered how she ended up his housecarl.
The Jarl smiled. "Go, rest and prepare for your journey to the Greybeards. May the Divines guard you, Dragonborn." Revak smiled. If you only knew.
Hrongar bowed to Revak. "It was an honor meeting you, Dragonborn."
With another bow Revak made his exit. He made his way to his new home, though he was not eager to arrive. It was most likely that Lydia was there already. He did not want to approach her so soon after she'd questioned him. Part of him wished that he could have chosen his own housecarl. Instead he turned and made his way to his new house.
Breezehome was in sight. He never made it there. Instead a gauntleted fist collided with his skull. He was knocked back. His eyes searched for the source of the blow, and he saw Lydia in front of him. She was still in her armor. Her fist still hanging in the air. Revak straightened himself. He felt a new cut on his face from her gauntlet. He wiped the fresh blood from his cut on his nose and stared at her. "Nice hit," he said as he inspected his blood on his hand. "I never saw it coming. Although I don't think you should treat your Thane in such a way."
With two long strides she closed the gap between them. Her face was inches away from his and her eyes were brown and fierce. Lydia poked Revak hard in the chest with her index finger. "You knew," she said, accenting both words with sharp pokes to Revak's chest. A crowd had gathered around them, silent witnesses to Lydia's rage.
Revak gently pushed her away, only to, once again, be stuck in the nose. Revak gingerly touched his nose, confirming it wasn't broken. "I'm sorry," he said softly to her so that only she could hear, "but once again this isn't the time, or place."
"When will it be," she scoffed, "my Thane?" she said, adding venom to the last word.
Revak shook his head. "Follow, then," he said as he turned toward the door. The heavy footfalls behind him told him that she was, indeed, following.
In silence they made their way to Breezehome. Along the way Revak was trying to think of a way to explain himself to Lydia without giving away too much information. At the same time, though, he wished for someone to confide in. Someone who knew who he was and what his mission was. He gave a mental sigh as they turned the corner, with Lydia now leading the way. Revak followed while still deep in thought, I can't do this alone, but can I trust her? Would she even believe me? he thought as they neared a large house just off the street. She is sworn to my service, and she is honorable. She would keep any secret, whether it be that I'm a god, or that I'm a madman. In that moment, he decided to confide in her. If she believed him then she would most likely follow him into Oblivion itself. If she didn't believe him she would most likely think her Thane is a madman.
Hmm, he thought, but what if I don't have to tell her the whole truth? He could simply say he was sent by the gods, not that he was one. What if he was sent by Talos? And not that he was Talos. It might just work. "Thane?" he heard her say as she opened the door.
"Sorry," he said, shaking himself free from thought. He entered the home, muttering thanks as he entered. The house was nice, but it was nothing glorious. At the entrance a fire was already glowing brightly in the hearth. In the back there was a closet, kitchen and dining area. Upstairs was the living quarters with a master bedroom for him and a smaller room for Lydia.
With a sigh and a roll of his shoulders he entered the dining area. He began to remove the more limiting pieces of armor, his helmet, gauntlets, and sword belt he laid on the table. He breathed deeply once he was free of the extra weight and joined Lydia at the hearth. He motioned for her to sit, but she remained standing. He grabbed the fire iron and started adjusting the logs. They stood in silence, the only sound being the cracks of the fire.
After a time Lydia broke the silence, "Who are you?"
Revak's focused on the fire. "Would you like the short or long version?"
"I want the truth."
Grinding his teeth, Revak began, "My name is Revak, but I'm not exactly from around here." He watched her closely for any reaction. "But I am Dragonborn," he explained, "and I've known this for a very long time."
Lydia's stare was unwavering. "Who are you?"
Revak sighed. "I can't exactly tell you."
She scowled. "What?"
"What I can tell you," he said as he took a step back, "is that I'm here to save Skyrim. No," he corrected himself, "not just Skyrim... I'm here to save all of Nirn from a threat that only a Dragonborn can prevent." Lydia stood silent as stone as he continued, "I'm here to stop the end of the world."
Lydia burst out laughing.
Revak could see his breath in the chill of the early morning. He took one last look at Whiterun as he spurred his horse down the road. Lydia had denied his offer to travel to High Hrothgar. It saddened him that she did not wish to go, but he understood her reasons.
She thought he was a mad man.
It was disheartening that the first person he 'told' did not believe him. He laughed to himself. What if he'd told her the entire truth? And so, Lydia remained in Breezehome. True, it hurt him, but he had a mission. And Revak couldn't afford to stray from it.
He watched as the towers of Dragonsreach faded away behind him. He would head to Riverwood and then Ivaarstead. From Ivaarstead he would climb the Seven Thousand Steps. He kept his horse at a good speed and would reach Riverwood within a few hours. He enjoyed the traveling. It was a chance to clear his thoughts and to enjoy the nature of Skyrim.
He saw the walls of Riverwood as he crested over a hill. He gave a smile as he saw the small mill town. Its people already finishing their work days and enjoying a brilliant afternoon. He crossed the bridge, and led his horse into the town. He noticed that Whiterun guards patrolled the walls. They nodded as he passed. He dismounted and tied his horse to the rail at the inn.
He noticed a little girl sitting on the inn's porch. Revak thought for a moment, trying to remember her name. He smiled and gave a little wave. The girl gave a gasp and ran into the inn. Strange, Revak thought as he watched the door slam behind her. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the key that Gerdur had given him, wondering if there was any news of Ralof and whether or not he'd made it to Windhelm safely.
As he walked the streets he felt watched. The villagers gave him evil looks and refused to talk to him. Revak made his way to the mill, but was shocked to find, not Hod working the mill, but a young man. Revak thought he recognized him from the last time he was there. "Hello," Revak said loudly so that he could be heard over the sound of the mill.
The young man stopped his work and looked at Revak, the blood drained from his face as he did so. The man collected himself and scowled. "What do you want?" he said curtly.
"I'm looking for Gerdur? Or Hod?" Revak said politely a smile still on his face.
"Is this some sort of sick joke?" the man shouted.
"I'm sorry," Revak said as he stepped away from the young Nord, "but I don't think I understand?"
The man stared at him. "What in Oblivion are you doing back here? Have you no respect?" He was shouting now, his hand resting on the dagger at his belt. Revak started backing away, but the man was closing the gap.
"Look," Revak said, trying to calm the man, "I have no idea what's going on here. What's your name? What's happened?"
"Sven," he said shaking his head to calm himself. "You have no idea, do you?"
"Hence why I asked what happened!"
"Follow me," Sven said, brushing roughly against Revak as he passed by.
Revak followed as Sven lead him down the main road. He turned right and down the lane that Revak remembered lead to Gerdur and Hod's home. The house was soon in sight, but something was wrong. Revak saw that the door had been boarded up and a sign nailed to it. Revak approached the door as Sven stood behind him silently.
Revak ripped the paper off the door, his scowl growing as he read:
The following citizens have been arrested and their property seized by the Empire:
Gerdur of Riverwood
Hod of Riverwood
For the crime of treason against the Empire in Skyrim.
It continued with a further list of crimes, including conspiring against the Empire and providing shelter to known criminals. It was signed by General Tullius. Revak threw the paper down in fury. He clenched his fits at his sides in an attempt to control his anger. "When did this happen?" Revak growled.
"Two days ago," Sven said from behind him. "You didn't know?"
Revak shook his head. "Of course not, I've been in Whiterun."
"They came in the middle of the night," Sven explained. "Hod tried to fight against them, but Gerdur stopped him. They took them away."
"What about the boy?" Revak said as he turned to face Sven.
"Sent to an orphanage," he said, "in Riften, I hear."
This was not the Empire Revak knew. This was not the Empire he made. His Empire didn't steal people away in the dark of night. His Empire didn't take children from their parents and cart them away never to been seen again. It was sickening, disgusting. To Revak, it was no wonder that the Stormcloaks were rebelling. Part of him wanted to hunt these Imperials down. He wanted to free his friends, and to get their boy back. Revak breathed deeply. No, he thought. I can't let this slow me down. I have to stop Alduin. The war can wait.
Sven soon left him. Revak reached into his pocket and removed the iron key that Gerdur had given him. He closed his fist around the key and took to his knees. "Akatosh," he prayed softly, "guide them for me." Shaking his head he stood and started making his way back to the inn. He saw a long string of leather hanging on the fence. Revak took the leather; pulling out the key he threaded it onto the leather. He tied it around his neck, a reminder of the sacrifice his friends had made.
Emotionally and physically drained from the day he was eager for some rest.
Inside the Sleeping Giant Inn, an Argonian sipped at his mead. He was not really drinking it, but he didn't want to rouse suspicion. He watched the tavern's patrons as they drank, sang, and all together acted like idiots. How long until he gets here? he asked himself. The Nords paid him no attention. They were more focused with their ale. He was getting nervous that he wouldn't show, until he heard the sound of the door opening and felt a cold breeze come in.
In walked a tall, strong looking Nord in steel armor. He had very short blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He looked tired and road weary. Perfect. He also took note of the steel sword at the Nord's hip. The Nord made his way to the inn keep, requested a room, paid the keep, and then took to his room. The Argonian sipped his drink with a smirk. Everything was falling neatly into place. He liked this very much. The Argonian retired to the room he'd rented earlier that day, leaving the villagers to their late night antics. He placed his drink on his bedside table. Then he sat down cross legged on the floor to meditate on what he was about to do.
Deep into the night, the Argonian 'woke' himself from his meditation. It's time, he thought as he stood, stretched, and donned his leather armor. His armor was boiled black and red leather and enchanted to ensure he would succeed. He never failed anyways, but it never hurt to be cautious.
He made his way to the door, ever careful to avoid the squeaky boards. He opened the door slowly so that it wouldn't creak. The inn was empty. The dying embers of the hearth were the last lights left in the room. He snuck across the hall to the Nord's room. He made no sound as he moved, thanks to years of training and practice. Gently, he started picking the lock. It was simple, only three tumblers. The lock clicked and the Argonian swung the door open.
Inside, the Nord lay in a deep sleep amongst furs and blankets. His armor lay on the dresser across the room, along with his blade. Perfect. He drew his blade, a wicked looking piece made of ebony. He crept to the Nord's bedside. "Embrace the Void," the Argonian whispered as he raised his blade high in the air.
At the last second the Nord awoke, his eyes wild with fear. He attempted to dodge the Argonian's blade making it miss its mark. Instead of stabbing the Nord's heart the blade dug into the his belly. The Nord gasped in pain, his mouth was trying to form words, but his body's strength had not yet failed him. With one hand he pushed the Argonian away. Nice try, the Argonian thought as he stalked closer to the now kneeling Nord. He drew his dagger high.
Intense, searing pain.
He looked down and saw the tip of a thin blade coming from his chest.
Revak waited for the final strike to come. Instead he heard a sickening sound. He looked up and saw the assassin, a green skinned Argonian, holding his blade high in the air. The assassin had a look of terror on his face as he looked and saw a blade protruding from his chest. The blade drew away, leaving a gaping hole. The Argonian assassin fell to the floor with a solid thud.
Behind the Argonian, stood a woman in leathers and wielding a very familiar sword. He recognized her as Farengar's client.
She was wielding the signature weapon of the Blades; an Akaviri katana.
Phantom Sky Hunt
He became aware of the pain in his belly first. It felt like his insides were on fire. With a groan he opened his eyes and sat up, trying to ignore the increase in pain as he moved. His vision was blurry at first, but, slowly, his eyes adjusted to the light. It took his fuzzy brain a moment to realize he was in a different room. The room was warm, but he felt a slight chill on his bare chest from the sweat making contact with the open air. He looked down and saw that his wound had been dressed. He felt stomach sick.
Everything was slowly returning to him; the abduction of Ralof's family, the assassin, and Farengar's client. That sword, he thought as he threw his feet over the side, it was an Akaviri katana. He knew it for sure. He'd seen those dozens of times. He had used them before. The Akaviri katana was the signature weapon of the Blades. The once dragon hunters, and personal guards to the Emperor. They were sworn to follow and protect the Dragonborn. Once the Oblivion Crisis hit the Blades were paramount to the salvation of Tamriel from the invasion of the daedra from Oblivion. The last Dragonborn emperor died at the end of the Third Era. The Blades had no emperor to serve, and thus were cast aside, nothing but relics of a time now gone. Either this woman had a relic and was unaware of its origins, or she was in contact with the Blades. If the latter was true she probably was one. If the Blades still existed they would be honor bound to help him.
He stood. His legs felt weak from lack of use. How long was I unconscious, he thought, more importantly, who treated me? The empty, sour feeling in his stomach and the stiffness of his muscles was a familiar feeling. Poison, he thought with a sigh, the damn assassin's blade was poisoned. He should have figured that earlier. He spotted a mug on the stand next to the bed. Greedy with thirst he reached for it, his thirst now all but unbearable.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he heard a woman's voice say from behind him. "You'll regret it when you feel like your insides are going to explode."
Smiling, Revak took a small sip. The water wasn't cool, but refreshing nonetheless. Sadly, he put the still full mug down on the stand. He turned and saw the woman who had saved him standing in the doorway. Her leathers were gone, replaced by civilian clothes, and she only had a steel dagger at her side. "You speak from experience?" he asked, not taking his eyes off her. She was a Breton; he could tell that much by her height, and her light hair and eyes. She was older, if Revak were to guess he would say in her fifties, but she was obviously in good shape.
"Something like that," she said with a smirk. She closed the door behind her, "You and I need to talk."
Revak nodded. "We do," he said as he made his way, slowly, to the table where there was a wicked looking ebony dagger and a folded note. Curious, Revak opened the note, revealing a large black hand printed on it. The Black Hand, he thought as he folded the note. I should have known that it was the Dark Brotherhood. "The Dark Brotherhood," he said setting the note down and picking up the ebony blade gently. It was a fine blade, something that the Brotherhood would have used back in their prime. "I forgot about them."
The woman took the dagger from him, "Well, it's going to be hard to forget about them from now on." She put the dagger down, "They aren't going to forget this, and they don't give up on hits." She looked at him, "They are going to hunt you until you die."
"Not unless I run into them first," he said with a smile as he turned back toward the bed and sat down, wincing from the pain.
"You don't seriously expect to challenge the Dark Brotherhood?"
"No," Revak laughed, "but if I run into them, I'll remember this." She smiled. "So," he said, "do I get to learn the name of the person who probably saved my life?"
"Probably?" she raised her brow.
"Well," Revak shrugged, "he might have missed, you never know."
"No, I guess not."
She smiled, "My name is Delphine."
"Well then," he said, offering his hand, "Delphine, I thank you." She took his hand. Revak smiled at the strength of her grip. "So, that was an interesting blade you used last night."
"I saved you life and you're interested in swords?"
Revak stood. "You know who I am," she said nothing. "You know what I am?" Nothing. "I know what you are."
She crossed her arms, "Do you?"
"I do, Blade."
Revak took a step toward her, "It's been a long time since you were called that, wasn't it? After all, weren't the Blades undone?"
Delphine's eyes grew wide, "How do you know?"
"Your sword," he said calmly. "The Akaviri katana, it's not very common," he explained.
"You weren't just saving an innocent man. You were saving me for a reason. Why?"
She sighed, "Because I've heard the rumors. You're Dragonborn?"
Revak nodded, "I am."
"Follow me," she said as she walked to the wardrobe in the corner. Curious, Revak followed and watched as Delphine opened the door, pushed aside the clothes and pulled a hidden lever. Suddenly, the back wall of the wardrobe slid to the left, revealing a stone staircase going to a hidden basement. Delphine went down the stairs. Revak followed slowly but surely behind her. It took a moment for Revak's eyes to adjust to the lack of light. Once adjusted he saw a table in the center of the room, covered with maps and books, a chest in the corner, a book shelf and an alchemist table along the back wall. Along the wall to the right was a weapon rack, containing three Akaviri katanas.
"Very nice," he said once he was finished taking in his surroundings.
"I'm sure you understand the need for secrecy."
He nodded. "Of course. So, Delphine, who are you really?"
She leaned on the table and sighed, "One of the last of the Blades. How much do you know of them?"
"More than I should," he said as he moved slowly to the table. "They were - are - an ancient order, meant to protect and serve the Dragonborn. In the beginning they were dragon hunters and joined the Dragonborn to hunt dragons. Later, they were guardians to the Dragonborn Emperors. After the Oblivion Crisis, and after the death of Martin Septim, they were left without a clear purpose."
Delphine nodded solemnly, "Ever since we've been fighting where we're needed. I fought against the Aldmeri Dominion in the Great War. The Dominion destroyed us. The Thalmor thought we were a threat to their power. They've been hunting the Blades ever since." Delphine paused and shook her head, "We questioned them. We stood for what he Empire truly is, what it was meant to be, and we suffered for it."
"And what is that?" Revak asked, curious as to what her response would be.
"A union of Tamriel under one banner, a union of peace and brotherhood, ruled by the Dragonborn descended from Tiber Septim himself."
She nodded, "That was the biggest blow to the Blades. Removing Talos from the Divines? Not only had the Empire turned into a bastardized version of itself, but it abandoned it's most holy and iconic man that ever lived. It's founder! For our sake, I hope Talos finds mercy to those that still worship him, even in secret."
He does, Revak thought, "I agree."
She looked at him, determination in her eyes. "You truly are Dragonborn?" Revak nodded. "I've been tracking your progress since Bleak Falls Barrow," she said, "You've never been to the Greybeards. Instead you learned to Shout from the dragon at the watchtower."
She pointed out numerous points she'd marked along the map. "These are dragon burial sites," she began. "The fact that the dragons are returning isn't merely by chance. Something is bringing them back. What that is I don't-"
"I do," Revak interrupted. Delphine stared at him, "Alduin has returned."
"Alduin," she said slowly, "I recognize the name..."
"Alduin the World Eater, End Bringer, First Born of Akatosh," Revak said with a scowl. "He is the opposite of Akatosh. As Akatosh creates, Alduin was to destroy. According to legends, Alduin had forsaken his ancient role to bring the end of the world, and instead he wanted to control it. So the Nords of old, the Dragonborn, supposedly defeated him."
"But if he was defeated, how can he be back?"
"It said they 'defeated' him, not that they destroyed him. How can you destroy a god?"
Delphine frowned, "If this is true... what are we to do?"
"It is no mere coincidence that I, a Dragonborn, appeared just as the dragons return to Skyrim."
Delphine looked confused, "What do you mean?"
"I was sent by the Divines to stop Alduin, at all costs."
"Sent by the Divines? So what, they brought you back to life?" she said questioningly.
"In a way. You don't need to believe me now. I'm sure it will make itself more obvious in time, but you and I have the same goal; to stop these dragons," he paused, taking in her reaction.
"Agreed," she said finally, "we must stop these dragons. Whatever they are planning, whether it's this Alduin, or just a crazed act of nature." Revak held back a sigh of relief. He was worried that this would go the same way as it had with Lydia. Instead Delphine asked no further questions, just left the posibility hanging in the air. "In any case," she pointed at a mark on her map, "Kynesgrove, I believe this is our next dragon. If we can catch them as they come back..."
Revak smiled, "It might save some lives."
"Exactly," Delphine said, "and if you really are Dragonborn, this is your chance to prove it to me."
It made sense that she would be skeptical, "Of course." Revak touched his bandages, "How long until I will be able to fight?"
She shook her head, "I'm not sure, let's go back upstairs and see how it's healing. The poison that was on the blade was a nasty concoction."
Going back up the stairs was more difficult that descending. Revak had to use Delphine as a crutch in order to get back up them. The room was spinning by the time they made it back to the bed. Carefully, Delphine removed the bandages. Revak winced as the fabric brushed against the wound. Once the bandages were removed Revak could see the injury for the first time. He had been stabbed in the left side of his belly. It was a long wound that was deep at the point of impact, then slid toward his side, leaving a long and ugly gash. He knew instantly that he would scar from the cut, "How long has it been?"
"Two days. You were lucky he missed your internal organs," Delphine said, reaching for fresh bandages. "It has healed well for how long it's been. The poison probably slowed the healing somewhat," she said as she began rewraping his injury.
Revak nodded, "I figured as much. I should be fine in maybe a few days."
"Five at least. We'll see, but we need to get to Kynesgrove, if you aren't well enough by then..."
"I'll travel injured," Revak smiled, "I'll make it."
She returned his smile as she finished wrapping his bandages.
Finally, Revak had a plan.
Kynesgrove turned out to be nothing more than a small mining village just South of Windhelm. It was literally nothing more than a mine, inn, and abandoned lumber mill. Revak scratched absentmindedly at his armor where he knew the scar from the assassin hid underneath. Under Revak's insistence, he and Delphine had traveled a mere three days after Revak had awoken after the Dark Brotherhood blade attempted to gut him like a fish. He had kept the wicked ebony blade and carried it with him, a reminder that if he were to ever run in to another member of the Brotherhood that he would return it.
They traveled in full armor, and constantly on their guard. Regularly, Delphine would look over her shoulder, as if fearing to find another assassin trailing behind them. She was under the constant fear that the Thalmor were hunting her still. Revak tried to comfort her by reminding her that she was no longer alone. She reminded him that he was Dragonborn, and that if anyone knew his whereabouts, it'd be the Thalmor.
Despite being weighed down by armor and injury they traveled quickly, only stopping to water their horses and to sleep in short shifts. As they passed under the great mountain that lead to the Throat of the World Revak hung his head. He knew he was defying the Greybeards by not climbing the Seven Thousand steps now, but he had a mission. Stopping the dragons, any dragon, was more important that meeting with old men on mountains.
As they traveled Delphine told him of her life; her battles in the First War, the multiple attempts on her life (she once killed an entire Thalmor assassination team.), and how she was trying to keep the traditions of the Blades alive. Each night and morning she prayed to the gods, to Talos specifically. In fact, Revak noticed that she would grasp her amulet of Talos as if to remind herself that it was still there. He couldn't help but smile as he stole glances of her doing this, but she quickly would hide the amulet under her armor, safe from the world and from his eyes.
His nights were becoming sleepless. Memories of his life long lived were bleeding into his dreams. His dreams were of battles long since forgotten. One night he had dreamed of the battle of Sancre Tor. It was a bloody battle between the Bretons, Nords, and Imperials that had given him his Empire. He saw the faces of the men and women that he'd killed as he lead his army beneath the keep. His days were spent in silence, meditating on the images of the night before.
One day they saw an lonely shrine on the road. The stone relic was crushed, and the name of the god it was for had been removed by a rough hand, but that only made it more obvious that it was a shrine to Talos. "Dragonborn, do you worship the gods?" Delphine had asked him.
"Of course," Revak had curtly responded as they rode.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I just never notice you praying or even mentioning them."
Revak shook his head, "I do, but I guess I've been... out of practice of late."
"Do you worship Talos?" she asked, her hand on her chest where Revak knew her amulet lay beneath.
"Yes," he said slowly, "in a way." That was the last he would speak of it.
It was late in the afternoon when they finally saw the Braidwood Inn. It was late fall in Skyrim. The sun hid behind a thick layer of clouds, and still sweat soaked their horses, threatening to freeze. Revak's mood rose as he saw the inn, for it meant food, shelter from the cold, and a chance for sleep. He dreamed of a fire, a cup of ale, and a warm meal.
Sadly that would remain a dream.
A farmer was running down the road, catching the attention of a Stormcloak patrol. Delphine and Revak followed the patrol as they intercepted the farmer. The Stormcloak stopped the poor man, "Trouble?" he asked.
The farmer stopped, catching his breath, "A dragon!" he gasped, "a huge black dragon!"
Revak spurred his mare forward, "Where?"
"Up the hill, by the old mound!"
Revak put on his horned helm, "Delphine, take the patrolman and get reinforcements," he drew his Akaviri Katana, "I'll go to the burial mound."
He was about to turn to run of up the path when Delphine called to him, "Dragonborn!" Revak stopped, and looked at the Blade. Her eyes spoke of fear and concern, "Fight well." Revak smiled and turned, his horse going full speed up the sparse dirt road.
Delphine watched sadly as the Dragonborn disappeared from sight. Her horse sensed fear and grew restless, prancing about where it stood. "You," she said to the farmer, "find somewhere safe." The farmer nodded and ran off toward the fields. "Stormcloak," she said to the soldier, who had an almost comical look of confusion on his face, "is there a post nearby?" He nodded and lead her down the road.
There was a small tower near the end of the town. It was a crumbling relic of the old Empire, but the Stormcloaks were like roaches. They would take cover and use whatever supplies they could muster, and if using abandoned Imperial outposts was necessary they would certainly make due.
"Captain!" the Stormcloak patrol called as he neared the outpost. An old soldier in a bearskin cloak stepped from the tower, followed by two more Stormcloak soldiers.
"What is the meaning of this? Who is this" the old bear asked.
The patrol stopped running, breathing heavily, Delphine spoke for him, "Reinforcements are needed in the village," she said, sitting tall in the saddle.
"Who are you?"
Delphine frowned, "It doesn't matter who I am," she said. "What matters is that there's a dragon at the burial mound and a man has gone to fight it alone."
The bear cursed, "Then he is a fool."
Delphine drew her sword, rage fueling her words, "He is the Dragonborn!" she yelled, her sword eager at her side, "show some respect!"
The bear stared at her for a moment. "Dinalla," he said to the young Stormcloak woman beside him, "get my horse."
As Revak crested the hill he saw the great black dragon circling the ancient mound. The darkness that he felt in his heart at the sight of it confirmed that it was Alduin. A black cloud was spinning from the mound as Alduin hovered and chanted in the Dragon Language. The worm either did not notice him, or it paid him no attention. Revak's horse began to fret, refusing to continue toward the black beast. He dismounted, taking his steel shield once his metal boots hit the fresh powder of snow below. His horse fled, screaming as it sped back down the path.
Sword and shield in hand, Revak marched toward the mound, "DRAGON!" he shouted at the beast. The dragon made sound that was a mix between a growl and a roar as it hovered above the mound; Revak could almost imagine the beast laughing at him.
The dragon stared at Revak, his burning red eyes flared, "Dovahkiin," the World Eater said, his voice made the world grow cold and dark and made a chill run down Revak's spine. "Daar Lein los dii." He breathed a white mist into the black cloud.
The ground shook. Revak struggled to stay on his feet. From the dragon mound a skeletal dragon burst forth, spraying rocks and dirt in its wake. A bright light came from the dragon, blinding Revak. He cursed and put up his shield, not knowing what would happen while he was indisposed. The light dispersed. Revak lowered his shield.
The skeletal dragon had become flesh. Its scales were white as the new snow, and they sparkled like ice in the morning light; beautiful and dangerous. The beast crawled from its former resting place and Shouted to the heavens, "FRO KRAH DIIN!" a blast of ice blue frost streamed into the air. Frost breath, Revak remembered. The white dragon dipped its head in respect to Alduin, "Alduin, thuri! Boaan tiid vokriiha suleyksejun kruziik."
Alduin roared in response, "Sahloknir, krii daar jor!" Revak didn't need to speak the Dragon Language to know that the Worm had commanded the white dragon to kill him. The white dragon, Sahloknir Revak guessed, turned toward him as Alduin flew away, roaring as he fled. Revak held up his shield and waited for the dragon to make its first move. Revak's heart was beating wildly in his chest. He had no tower to jump from this time, and no plan.
The dragon stepped toward him, baring its teeth as it spoke, "I am Sahloknir! Hear my Voice and despair!" He Shouted a stream of ice at Revak, who barely managed dodged in time.
"You will die, dragon!" Revak called as he returned to his feet, his shield still held high.
Sahloknir hummed, "My Lord Alduin requires your death. I am happy to oblige him, " he said as he breathed another spray of frost, just missing Revak. "Hiding will not save you mortal!" Revak charged, dodging Sahloknir's elemental breath by inches, but managing to bash the white dragon in the snout, "You mortals have grown arrogant while I slept!"
"Perhaps you are the one who's grown arrogant?" Revak said as he rushed back, dodging the dragon's claws. He felt the power of the dragon's blood flowing within him, "FUS RO DAH!" he Shouted. The dragon was buffeted backwards, using his wings to keep his balance.
"Your Voice is strong Dovahkiin," he released a blast of flame, forcing Revak back even further. Fire and ice? Revak cursed as he charged again, shield above his head he dived as another stream of flame flew over him, heating his shield and scalding his shield arm. He managed to slash at the beast's throat. He broke through it's scales and the dragon roared in pain. Revak was nearly crushed as the dragon took to the skies, blood trailing behind it like a comet's tail.
Revak screamed in defiance as the dragon dived at him, roaring as it fell from the heavens. The dragon crashed, parting the ground like water as it fell. Revak was knocked away. He felt his breath knocked out of him as he hit the ground. He lay there, gasping for breath. He slowly stood, the world spinning around him. The dragon stood, but was obviously hurt. It moved slowly and did not bother to speak to Revak again.
Revak half limped half marched to the dragon, who bared its teeth and growled. "I am Talos Stormcrown," the dragon stared, at a loss for words, "in the name of the Divines, I WILL DESTROY YOU!" he charged, sword high and shield low, ready to die, but also ready to kill the beast before him. His flesh began to glow gold, the blessing of a god made flesh. For the first time since he arrived in Skyrim... Revak was Talos once more.
Sahloknir tried to crunch the Dragonborn in his jaws, but the swift Dragonborn sidestepped him. The dragon was blinded by Talos' aura. The white worm was left wide open, and Talos took the opportunity. He stabbed the beast in the eye, once, twice, three times. Sahloknir roared in pain and despair as the blade sunk deep into his eye, and deep into his brain. The dragon collapsed, shuddered once, then moved no more.
Revak stood, frozen in time as the soul of the dragon joined his. A bright gold and white stream enveloped him, giving him the power and knowledge of the felled dragon. When it was over Revak stood, burned, damaged, and tired. He stepped away from the dead dragon, taking in the sight.
He saw Delphine and the Stormcloaks coming up from behind him. He smiled when she stopped, frozen in awe.
"Do you believe I am Dragonborn now?" he laughed.
Attn: Well, combining chapters is not fun. But it does help organize my thoughts for some reason.
For clarification, Revak can learn Shouts many ways. He can learn from reading the word, and absorbing its meaning through the souls of dragons. He can also listen to them and learn them. For example, in this chapter he just learned the Frost Breath Shout. And this 'god' appearance I call his 'Divine Aura'. This will be mentioned later.
Dragon Language translations as they appear:
Daar Lein los dii - (rough) This world will die/This world is doomed.
FRO KRAH DIIN - (Frost Breath Shout) Frost-Cold-Freeze
Alduin, thuri! Boaan tiid vokriiha suleyksejun kruziik. - Alduin, my overlord! An age past, did you not destroy the power of the ancient kings? /Alduin, my overlord! An age time ago kill power-of-kings ancient?
Sahloknir, krii daar jor - Sahloknir, kill the mortal.
FUS RO DAH - (Unrelenting Force Shout) Force-Balance-Push
Sahloknir - (Dragon Name) Phantom-Sky-Hunt
Seven Thousand Steps
Bardak the Bold
The Nord stood over the body of a white dragon. His horned helm cast a shadow that obscured his face from view, and his steel armor was painted with blood and grime. The warrior's sword was sheathed deep inside the eye of the beast. But that was not why Bardak the Bold and his ragtag company of six Stormcloaks was frozen where they stood. Bardak was stunned because he had just witnessed the warrior take in something from the dragon. He had heard the legends, every true born Nord had; the legends of the Dragonborn. It was a tale told to young children before they went to bed, something adults passed as myths. It was often told that the Nords of old, the descendants of the First Men, had learned to take in the power of the dragons they killed, and use it against them. They fought for freedom and glory. One of them even became a Divine. They were the pride of the Nord race, and, until now, Bardic thought they were only legends.
This man was Dragonborn.
Without a word Bardak drew his ax. It was an ancient weapon that had been in his family for generations, passed down from father to son. He fell to his knees, laying his weapon on the fresh snow before him. This was an act of respect to some, and an act of fealty to others. His Stormcloaks followed, for they too, knew what they had just been witness to.
The Dragonborn removed his sword from the beast's skull. Black blood coated the blade from tip to hilt. He thrust the still bloodied blade into the snow covered ground. Using both hands he removed his helm, allowing Bardak to see his face for the first time. The old Stormcloak captain was surprised to see how young he was. The Dragonborn's brow gleamed with perspiration, and his face and short blonde hair were caked with mud, soot, and blood.
Bardak held his breath as the warrior, the Dragonborn he reminded himself, march towards him. Bardak lowered his bear skin hood as the Dragonborn knelt in front of him. Bardak's old brown eyes with the Dragonborn's deep midnight blue ones. "Why do you kneel, Stormcloak?" he asked softly.
Bardak dipped his head, breaking eye contact, "Because I am a true Nord, and you are a Dragonborn of legends."
The Dragonborn stood slowly, and offered Bardak his hand. Confused and in awe, Bardak took it, and they stood together. "Stand," the Dragonborn said, "this legend hasn't been written yet."
They would eat and stay for free that night at the Braidwood Inn. The inn keep was very gracious to the Dragonborn for slaying the white dragon. He even swore he would name his next son after him. The Dragonborn smiled and said he was honored, but that 'Revak' was an ugly name. Nonetheless the Inn was small. Its spread was sparse as the crop had been small that year, and so much of their inventory depended on the generosity of traveling merchants, which were, according to the keep, "Growing more and more skittish" as more and more sightings of dragons were being reported.
The entire population of Kynesgrove attended their little victory get together, all twelve of them, plus the Stormcloaks who had arrived with the captain Delphine had nicknamed in her head 'the Old Bear'. In truth, this Old Bear was only a few years older than herself. The cook served a thin but filling venison stew with carrots and cabbage. The soup was served hot, but by the time that the villagers let Delphine and the Dragonborn stop telling stories and eat it had grown cold. Delphine smiled when she spied the Dragonborn whispering to his stew, which was suddenly steaming. She guessed that it was probably improper use of the Voice, but she ignored it and passed him her bowl as well.
Where the Inn was lacking in food they were rich in alcohol, and soon the residents of Kynesgrove were laughing louder, tipping their drinks, and the Stormcloaks were comparing battle scars. The Dragonborn, Delphine noticed, politely refused drink, but he still laughed amongst the men, and was asked multiple times to spin them the story of how he'd defeated the dragon back at the Whiterun Western Watchtower.
The women were swooning over the young Dragonborn. Delphine was sure that one who was particularly deep in her cups had actually proposed to him. But Delphine was impressed with the Dragonborn. He knew how to handle himself. He was always polite and courteous, and he always seemed know exactly what to say. He knew how to work a crowd. Only once one of the residents picked up a lute and started a very off key rendition of "Ragnar the Red" did the Dragonborn pull Delphine aside. "I think it's time we leave these folks to their festivities," he said just loud enough for her to hear. "Let's go up to my room, we need to talk."
Delphine nodded. "That we do," she agreed. She followed him up the stairs to the room he rented at the end of the hall. It was a simple room, inhabited by only a bet and trunk. The Dragonborn's armor rested on his trunk, cleaned and shined to perfection. He shut the door behind her, muffling yet another rendition of "Ragnar the Red".
"These small village folk know how to celebrate," he smiled.
"With Skyrim how it is," she shook her head, "you learn to celebrate whenever you can."
"I think we should split up," he said suddenly. Delphine was taken completely off guard. Her mouth sat agape, and she was about to ask what in Oblivion he was talking about when he put up a hand, "We know that Alduin is bringing back the dragons, but I can't just fight these dragons every blasted time he brings one back." He shook his head and continued, "For all we know he is raising another dragon as we speak. We were lucky this time, that's all. We need to stop this at it's source; Alduin."
Delphine scowled, she wasn't liking this, "And what are you suggesting, O wise Dragonborn?"
Now it was his turn to scowl, "Stop it Delphine. You know that I wouldn't suggest anything without thinking it through. I need to go to the Greybeards. They're the only ones who might have any information on what to do with Alduin, or how the ancient Dragonborn stopped him before. But we also need to stop the dragons so they don't kill half the population of Skyrim before I can stop Alduin."
She looked at him, wondering whether or not the world had been cursed with a mad Dragonborn, "And how exactly am I supposed to fight dragons?"
He laughed, "I don't even know how I do it."
The Dragonborn thought for a moment, "I need you to rebuild the Blades." His face grim, "I want a dragon hunting army. It's time the Blades returned to their roots."
She was at a loss for words. Rebuild the blades? Her mind raced to Esbern. He'd said that years ago. But he disappeared. If she were to find him, he could help her. It was a start.
At that the conversation was over as he opened the door for her, "I'll find a way to contact you if I figure anything out."
He had to admit. He was nervous about going off alone. He had grown used to the Blade's company, but he was positive that she could handle the task he set out for her. Returning the Blades to their ancient roles as dragon hunters he thought was the best plan they could follow. He did not sleep well, knowing that she wouldn't be happy when she awoke at dawn and found his room empty. After a few hours of fitful sleep he woke, donned his armor, and slowly moved down the hallway. When he reached the tavern floor he found it empty. Even the inn keep was gone, Revak took the opportunity to take some supplies from the cupboard. He felt bad for taking the supplies, and even leaving a few coins behind, he knew, wasn't worth the price of the food.
His horse was still tacked from the day before. He mounted and rode South towards Ivaarstead.
It took almost three days to reach Ivaarstead. The town was larger than Kynesgrove, but compared to Whiterun it was tiny. He rode into the town, feeling the eyes of the villagers as he passed. They did not bother to speak to him. They were so used to pilgrims coming to the town before climbing the Seven Thousand Steps. He was tired and road weary, and decided to stay a night at the inn before Vilemyr Inn. Revak found it was better equipped to handle travellers than the Braidswood had been. He greeted the inn keep, ordered a meat pie, and sat in front of the hearth. He listened as a golden haired bard played her lute softly in the corner.
The morning was cold and the sky was overcast when Revak crossed the bridge and began his ascent up the Seven Thousand Steps to High Hrothgar, and to the Greybeards. The Seven Thousand Steps were, at their heart, a pilgrimage for any who wished to find something. Whether it be something about themselves or some sort of spiritual fulfillment. Along the climb there were small shrines with etchings that told the tale of the Greybeards and how they were founded. He passed the first etching, stopping to read the first words of the pilgrimage.
Before the birth of man, the Dragons ruled all of Mundus
Their word was the Voice, and they spoke only for True Needs
For the Voice could blot out the sky and flood the land
He meditated on the first words. He thought of a world where dragons ruled. He began to climb. The steps were worn with time and use. He kept a steady pace, controlling his breathing, for he knew the higher he climbed the harder it would be to climb. A half hour later he found himself at the second etching.
Men were born and spread over the face of Mundus
The Dragon's presided over the crawling masses
Men were weak then, and had no voice
Before the Dragonborn then, he thought as he read the last line. That was a time when the Nords had worshiped the dragons, thinking them gods. He stared up the path, closing his cloak tight around him. He followed a small group of mountain goats. Soon he passed the third etching, then the fourth, all telling the story on how the Nords rebelled against their dragon overlords with the help of the Dragonborn. The higher he climbed the thinner the air became, and he soon found himself breathing heavily and growing more tired. He knew he was almost there when he saw a very familiar statue that hadn't been there the last time he'd climbed the steps so very long ago.
Underneath the statue of Talos he read the etching:
For years all silent, the Greybeards spoke one name
Tiber Septim, stripling then, was summoned to Hrothgar
They blessed and named him Dovahkiin
He smiled at his old name. He remembered his first trip up the mountain well, for it was almost his last. Partway up he'd been attacked by a frost troll. It had the element of surprise, and the help of a snowstorm. It wasn't that he couldn't easily defeat the troll, it was the fact that while fighting it, he almost stepped off the mountain because he was unable to see the ground below him.
He continued on until he could see the home of the Greybeards, High Hrothgar. It stood ancient and grim looking in the shadow of the mountain, which still loomed just above it. He walked the worn steps, the last of the journey. He reached for the great doors, finding them unlocked, and entered.
She swore that if she saw the Dragonborn again she'd be sure to have a few strong words with him. Instead she followed his lead and left Kynesgrove, heading North to Windhelm. She had a plan. She had set the seeds in Kynesgrove before she'd left. Sending couriers this way and that, trying to contact the right people. If anyone knew where Esbern was, it was the Thalmor. So it would be the Thalmor that would lead her straight to him.
Windhelm was a completely different city than Whiterun. It was the center of the Stormcloak rebellion, and the war had clearly taken the toll on the ancient city. It's stone alleys and streets were guarded by Stormcloak soldiers, and their numbers were in full force. The city was as cold as its stone, and it's people were colder still. Dark Elves were restricted to the city's Grey Quarter, and Argonians and Khajiit to the docks outside the city. It was the Nordic race that was prominent within the city, and they wanted it known.
Wrapping her cloak around her she entered the tavern. Ignoring the bartender she went upstairs and found a table in the darkest corner of the room. She gazed at the table, and there, carved into the side was a symbol; a circle within a diamond. She sat waiting for the contact to show himself. She was nervous he wouldn't show when she heard a voice behind her, "Are you looking for a professional?"
The man sat down. He was dressed in black leather and hood, "Tell me what you need done, sweetheart, the Guild is at your service."
Old Men on Mountains
Cato smiled lightly as the Thalmor guard blocked his path. "Why, of course," he said politely as he handed the High Elf the invitation scroll. Cato knew that the invitation was a forgery, but he was confident in his associate's skills. He wouldn't have been here if he'd thought otherwise.
The Imperial watched calmly as the Thalmor guard read the scroll. The Altmer nodded, "Welcome to the Embassy, Thane. It is an honor to have you here." Cato smiled. He was indeed a Thane - that part was true, but he was positive that the Thane of Riften, a rebel city, wasn't on the guest list for this party. The guard stepped aside, and Cato nodded to him politely as he passed.
The party room was of a good size, but packed with dignitaries; rich merchants, Thanes, Jarls, and stewards all. Immediately, Cato counted the number of exits. He had entered the party easily enough, but he knew that it would be in escaping that the real challenge would begin. He had dressed to impress, dressed in a black doublet with red trim, and his short black hair was neatly combed. He scanned the crowd, looking for his 'partner in crime', a wood elf by the name of Malborn. He spotted him behind the bar, tending to thirsty patrons.
Cato began to walk to the bar when he was blocked by a well dressed High Elf woman. She smiled politely at him, and he returned the smile, "Welcome!" she said, a little too enthusiastically. Ambassador Elenwen, and she's suspicious, Cato realized.
"It is an honor to be here, my lady Ambassador!" he said taking a bow. I've got her now, she didn't expect me to recognize her.
"Thank you, forgive me, I seem to have forgotten your name," she said politely, with a hint of malice beneath.
Now for the hook, "Of course, my lady, I am, after all, new to the court. We met during the funeral in Solitude recently? You may not remember me. We spoke only briefly, and I never told you my name. And I'm sure the funeral of the Emperor's cousin took precedence over meeting a minor Thane." Now she either 'remembers' me or doesn't. It'd be rude to forget someone after all.
"Ah, of course, forgive an old woman."
Cato smiled sweetly, "No forgiveness needed, Lady Ambassador. I am enjoying your party; it is quite the get together."
She nodded. "That it is," she paused as someone called her name; some lord Cato assumed. "Forgive me, but let us speak again later?"
Cato nodded, "Indeed, I think I shall converse with the other guests." He watched as she left to speak with a very grumpy looking Nord. That, he thought, was close.
He made his way to the bar. The Bosmer greeted him, "Good evening, my lord, would you like refreshment?"
Of course everything was scripted before the party. Smiling, Cato gave his next line, "Do you have any Colovian wines?" Now he knows I am me, and not an imposter. One of the drawbacks of the Guild, everyone wore hoods. Last time he and Malborn met Cato had been wearing his hood.
"Of course, my lord," Malborn said, reaching under the bar and pulling out a red wine, "Cyrodillic red, as sweet as summer wine." Everything's ready.
"A taste then, my friend," he watched as Malborn poured a small amount of the wine into a glass. Cato took the glass gently in his hands, swirling the wine, and tasted it. It was sweet and free of a bitter aftertaste. He would have enjoyed the bottle, if it hadn't been for the circumstances. He finished the rest of the glass, "A fine wine, bar keep." The guards are watching us, I need a distraction.
Malborn nodded, "I have never tried it. It is much too sweet for my tastes, my lord." I don't know.
Damn it, Cato thought as he handed Malborn the empty wine glass. Just then he heard a shuffling out on the main floor, followed by the sound of someone clearing their throat loudly. He turned and saw a very drunk Nord stumbling to the middle of the room. He had the attention of all the dignitaries, including the Thalmor guards. Raising his already empty bottle the Nord smiled, "Attention everyone!" he said, slurring each word. "Could I have your attention please! I propose a toast, to Elenwen!" He teetered forward dangerously before continuing, "Our Mistress! I speak figuratively of course. Nothing could be more unlikely than that someone would want her in their bed," he laughed a little too loudly. "Although... most of you are already in bed with her!"
At that point the guards swept in, grabbing the drunk by the arms. But the drunk paid no attention, and he continued his speech. Cato did not bother to listen to the rest, even as amusing as it was. He slipped into the shadows and behind the bar. Malborn joined him, shutting the door and whispering urgently, "What luck! That will keep the guards busy for a few minutes."
Cato nodded, "Where is the equipment I gave you?" he asked.
"In the back," the Bosmer whispered, "but we must keep quiet." Cato nodded again and followed as Malborn led him to a back room.
The kitchen was empty save for the Khajiit cook. She scowled when she saw Cato, "What is this Malborn?" she growled. "Guests ain't suppose to be in the kitchens. You'll get us all fired."
Malborn turned, "This guest is feeling ill. Probably because of your foul cooking."
She growled again, "He still ain't suppose to be here."
Cato smiled and stepped toward her, placing two Septims on the table with an audible clink. "I hope this helps for your trouble."
The greedy Khajiit took the coins. "I didn't see nothin'," she said, and continued her work.
Malborn hurried Cato into the next room and shut and locked the door. "You shouldn't have bothered," he said curtly, "she'll just spend it on skooma."
"If it buys her silence," Cato muttered, "my conscience is clear."
Malborn pointed to a chest in the corner, "Your things are there." Without hesitation Cato removed his gear from the chest. Quickly, he buckled his black sword to his belt, put on his black leather bracers, and strung his black bow and put it and the quiver on his back. Lastly, he donned his black Nightingale hood and mask, obscuring his identity in case he was found. He was a Nightingale of course; he would never work without it. "Good luck, Guild Master," Malborn said respectfully.
"I don't need luck," Cato laughed, his smirk hidden by his mask, "I have skill."
Revak held his breath as he entered the citadel that was High Hrothgar. The place was dark and lit only by a few dim candles. His eyes struggled to make sense of the shadows that crept around him and along the walls. Old ghosts, he thought. His footsteps echoed as the sound of his heavy footfalls bounced against the ancient stone walls. It was all familiar, yet still so strange. He found himself stopping in the center of the room, feeling unseen eyes gazing upon him.
"We feared you would not come," said a calm voice in front of him, so close that Revak started at the sound of it. A figure stepped forward, and an old man dressed in grey robes appeared, then another, and another, and soon Revak found himself by a circle of Greybeards.
Revak dipped his head, "My name is Revak. I have come to answer your summons, and to speak with you," he said respectfully.
"And speak we shall. We have much to discuss," said the first Greybeard. "I am Master Arngeir, and I speak for the Greybeards. You have an interesting name, Revak. "
"It is an honor to speak with you then, Master. And thank you."
Arngeir smiled, "We summoned you because we heard your Voice. We have not heard a new Voice in so long, not since Tiber Septim himself! It is true then, that you possess the gift?"
"Yes, Master, I am Dragonborn," Revak said, standing tall.
"We shall see. If you can survive against the Unbridled Voice of the Greybeards you shall be named Dovahkiin."
"Dovahkiin!" the other Greybeards whispered, causing the floor to shake slightly, and, somewhere high above them, a bell rang out once.
"I am ready."
Arngeir nodded, "Then let us begin my Brothers!" he said to the other four monks. They closed around Revak.
It began as a whisper, but slowly the chant became louder and louder. The world shook around Revak, but he stood tall, resisting the urge to cover his hears. They were so loud that he couldn't understand the words they were saying. The Greybeards spoke faster and the noise became louder. Revak stumbled, fearing his head would explode from the pain and sheer volume of the chant that surrounded him like an unrelenting force. He fell to one knee, panting. The chant continued to rise in volume, and by this point his whole body was shaking.
But then, it was silence. Revak stood slowly, expecting the Greybeards were done with their chant, but when he looked at the monks they were still speaking. Their eyes grew wide when he saw he was no longer affected.
This hadn't happened before. Last time he had visited he'd been forced to hear the entire chant. As Tiber Septim he'd survived, but only barely. He didn't feel weakened now, though. In fact he felt a familiar power. He gazed at his hands and found familiar warmth. A golden light surrounded him, blocking the combined Voice of the Greybeards. He knew it well, for it was his Divine Aura, the same he had as he walked Sovngarde as one of the Nine. The very same that had shown itself in his fight against Sahloknir. His skin felt feverish and hot with power. Sparks of electricity cracked as his strength rose.
The Greybeards finished their chant, their eyes flickering nervously toward Arngeir, who only stared in awe. Revak could swear that tears forming in his eyes. Their faces were lit from his golden glow, four of the monks knelt before him, murmuring "Dovahkiin". Arngeir remained standing, "What is your name, Dragonborn?"
Revak was silent for a moment. He felt the sheer power within him; the power of a god made flesh, "Revakkaal," he said, surprised to find that his voice was much lower, but different, as if he were not one person, but two.
Arngeir was shaking where he stood, "Your true name, Dragonborn."
Revak smiled, "Talos Stormcrown."
Immediately, Arngeir fell to his knees, tears flowing down his face freely, "Hail Tiber Septim!" he said, taking in the sight of the god of men, "Hail Talos!" he cried. The others joined him, the world shaking as they spoke.
"Werid kos Talos revak kendov, drog se jul!"
Lydia sighed as she stared at the flames of the hearth. How in Oblivion had she landed herself here, she wondered. Here she was, guarding an empty house for a mad Thane who was off chasing dragons and rumors of dragons. Does he really think himself sent by the gods? Or is it just the size of his ego?
Then again, she'd seen him fight that dragon at the Western Watchtower. She'd watched as he killed the dragon, and Shouted in victory. After that everyone claimed that he was Dragonborn. It seemed to be the only word on people's lips nowadays. Dragonborn this, Dragonborn that. The man had been gone for over a month and a half, and so far they had heard no more news of their precious 'Dragonborn'.
It was once thing to call the man Dragonborn, but it was something else when he claimed he was sent by the gods. She had a hard time swallowing that. Dragons were beasts to be slain. She didn't believe any of this nonsense about some evil dragon lord returning to rule the world, and that Revak was the solution and their only savior.
She was adding another log to the fire when she thought she heard a noise. She turned to the front door, and found a tall man in black and gold robes standing behind her. She drew her sword, cursing herself for not wearing her armor. "This home belongs to the Thane of Whiterun," she said strongly. "What business do you have here?"
The man lowered his hood. His appearance was Altmer, "In the name of the Dominion, in accordance with White Gold Concordat, you, Lydia of Whiterun, and Housecarl to the Thane of Whiterun, also known as 'Dragonborn', are hereby under arrest until further notice or until your hearing is concluded." The Elf stepped aside as two more appeared, these in golden heavy armor, and blades drawn.
Lydia scowled, "What is the meaning of this?"
The Altmer warriors stepped forward. "Will you come quietly?" one said beneath his helm.
"Never!" Lydia cried as she charged him. He blocked her attack easily with his sword. Lydia spun striking him in the leg and knocking him off balance just long enough so that she could bury her sword in his neck. He fell to the ground, gurgling on the floor as he choked on his own blood.
Blood streaming down her blade she attacked the second, but was frozen. She couldn't move. The first Thalmor stepped in front of her, blue magic gathered in his hands, a hold spell, she realized. The other Thalmor warrior struck her with his shield. She felt blood creeping down her face as the world became black.
Attn: So, I hope you enjoyed this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please be sure to review and tell me what you think about the new perspectives, and what you think of the new original character, Cato! On to chapter fifteen, "A Blade in the Dark"!
Dragon Language translations as they appear;
Werid kos Talos revak kendov, drog se jul! - Praise Talos-Sacred-Warrior, Lord of Man!
A Blade In the Dark
Pain was the first thing she was aware of. Her head felt like it was filled with lead and head throbbed where she'd been struck. Her muscles and joints were stiff. Lydia opened her eyes, only to find she couldn't see. She panicked for a moment before realizing it was because the room was dark. She tried to raise her hand to feel the wound on her head, but struggled against restraints she couldn't see. "Oh, look, you're finally awake," a voice nearby said, its tone was sickeningly sweet.
Light blinded her as a torch was lit, and then she could see the face of the Alter that had spoken, his voice was light and cheerful, "Now I have some questions to ask you, if you don't mind?" She said nothing, so he continued, "I'm looking for your boss, the Dragonborn? Do you know where he is?"
"No." It was the truth. It had been... she didn't even know how long it had been since he'd left for the mountain.
The Elf tsked, "Are you sure? He left and didn't tell you, his housecarl, where he was going?"
"I'll ask one more time, if you don't answer we will have to use other... methods. Where is the Dragonborn?"
"I. Don't. Know."
"Too bad, guards, get the fire rod."
When she was finally dumped mercilessly on the cold stone floor of a cell he hated that fire rod with her entire being. Her body was burned and bruised. The guards, nor their rod, had been kind. The guards even more so. Shivering from the pain she managed to move slowly to lean against the wall. She would not cry. She was stronger than that. Even during their torture, even as the guards... had her... she did not cry out. She was a Nord. She'd show them what a true Nord was. What they could stand. That they would never give up.
She was startled as she heard a sound from the back corner of the cell, "Hello?" she managed to rasp. Soon a shape stood and walked slowly toward her and sat beside her. It was another Nord. He was tall and muscular, and dressed in the similar rags as she was; only his were more filthy. He had a strong face, light brown hair, blue eyes, and beard.
He looked at her kindly, "Are you all right?" he asked softly.
She laughed, even though it hurt, "I've had better days."
He nodded, "Here," he said, offering her something. She took it, noticing that it was a piece of stale bread, "Not exactly home cooking, but it's better than nothing." She thanked him and took a bite. He stared at the wall wistfully. "I don't know how long I've been here. My wife was here with me for a small time, but they took her away. I don't know where."
"Where are you from?"
"Whiterun," she answered in between bites.
"I'm from Riverwood."
She finished the last bit of the bread, "My name is Lydia."
He offered her his hand, she shook it, "Good to meet you Lydia. I'm Hod."
The Ratway smelled of dead things, piss, ****, and more piss. At least, that was Delphine's first impression of the meeting place. A week ago she'd been contacted by a foot pad of the Thieves Guild about her... job offer. They wanted to conduct a meeting with her, in the Riften Ratway of all places. She did not like this at all, but it had, after all, been her fault for hiring the Guild in the first place. But who else could infiltrate the Thalmor Embassy? She knew of no one they wouldn't already recognize, and it wasn't like she could just waltz in there. No, that would have to be the job of a thief for hire. Though the thought of hiring a Guild of footpads, cut purses, and criminals made the bile rise in her stomach. She knew she couldn't trust these people as far as she could throw them, even though she bet that was pretty far.
She was skittish, suspicious of every shadow and every dark place, and there were a lot of those in the Ratway. The location was the Guild's choice; it was common knowledge that the Ratway, Oblivion, that all of Riften was their turf. It was even rumored that they had their hands in the Jarl's pockets. So here she was, in the dark, piss smelling sewers beneath the city, waiting for some contact that she was half hoping wouldn't show. She stood in a small alcove near the entrance. Her hand rested nervously on the hilt of her sword.
She heard a sound in the darkness to her right, she drew her sword, and nervously swung, letting out a sigh when the metal tinged as it hit the stone wall. She cursed, then jumped when she heard a voice behind her, "Congratulations," a male voice said, "you managed to kill a particularly dangerous bit of masonry. You should be proud." A man stepped forward from the shadows. He was dressed from head to boots in a strange black armor. She tried to focus on him, but it was like the armor drew the shadows in, obscuring him from her sight. His face was concealed behind a hood and mask, causing his deep, smooth, voice to be muffled slightly. A black bow and a quiver of arrows rested on his back, and a sword and multiple daggers at his waist.
Frustrated she turned her blade around so that the tip resting mere inches away from his neck, "Watch or tongue or you might share the same fate as the wall," she cursed.
He raised his hands in mock surrender, "I truly fear for my life then, m'lady." Sighing she sheathed her blade, the sound echoed against the hollowed hall. Delphine couldn't see his face, but she knew he was smiling. Mockingly he bowed, "Greetings, you are awaiting a Guild contact I presume?" she nodded, "Then I am he."
She scowled, "Show your face then."
"That would be," he seemed to search for the word, it was hard to read his emotions when she couldn't see his face, "... unwise."
Her hand rested on her blade again, "It would be unwise not to."
He chuckled, "You're quiet the charmer, Blade, but I think it would be safer if you didn't see my face. Know this, I am the one that completed your contract with the Guild. I know the information you sought, and only I know it. Kill me and the information disappears, and I doubt you would be able to retrieve it yourself if I were to be... incapacitated."
Delphine let out a string of curses, "Fine, then. What news, then?"
She watched as he reached over and took a torch from the wall. He opened his hand and, muttering a word, lit it with magic. A magic user, then, she noted for later. The light from the torch made the shadows dance against the walls. The man gestured forward, "Walk with me, and talk with me."
The started down the tunnel, Delphine following the stranger's lead. "The job was successful," he began, but his voice was low, "mostly. We lost a good agent in the process. He wasn't a Guild member, but a useful tool and he will be difficult to replace."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
He paused, slightly, "Thank you, but he knew what he was getting into. Anyways," he stopped at a crossroad. After a moments pause he continued down the left path, "We have the information, and then some. The Thalmor know very much of you. I apologize if my curiosity got the better of me; in that I read all I could. They know you are hiding in Skyrim, but I think you knew that already. They know your friend is too. They've been taking in prisoners, questioning and often torturing them for answers."
Delphine let out a fresh string of curses. People were getting hurt, people who probably didn't even know anything about her whereabouts. "Recently, they got a break, a prisoner they captured from here in Riften let loose that a strange and very cautious old man by a certain name lives here, deep within the Ratway." He stopped as they had reached a old wooden door with multiple locks. He raised his torch high, "I am escorting you to him."
It made no sense, why would a Guild of hired cut purses help her so much, "Why not just tell me the information and leave?"
He paused in thought, "Because, you are not the only one who is unhappy with the Empire's current situation with the Thalmor and the Dominion," he said slowly. "And I want to make sure you get there safely. The bowels of the Riften Ratway are more dangerous than any draugr infested ruin. If you want to get out of here alive, you'll need me with you."
"Why? I can handle myself," she protested.
He shook his hooded head, "They know me here. Trust me, at least for now. No harm will come to you in the Ratway whilst I am here. Believe me in that. No one here would dare lay a finger on me." He pulled a ring of keys from his belt and began unlocking the door. Who was this man that he supposedly demanded so much respect? The door opened and Delphine followed the stranger inside. When the door closed behind them it slammed loudly, making her shudder. The stranger held his torch high. If it was possible the torch made the place seem even darker. He began to walk with purpose, his black boots splashing through the occasional puddle. In the shadows she felt eyes upon them, the eyes of the outrageously poor, the forgotten, the mad, the hermits, and maybe even ghosts. Her guide kept a brisk pace, moving so fast that Delphine struggled to keep up with his long strides.
They reached what seemed like an alcove. Her guide held up his hand to pause her. He waved his torch around wildly, "Voldrik!" he called, From the shadows crawled the smallest man Delphine had ever seen. He stood less than four feet tall, his head was bald, and one eye was bigger than the other. He waddled to the stranger, a smiled on his wicked little face revealed one sole tooth in the front,
"Nightingale," the man rasped as he bowed, which seemed unnecessary for a man of his stature, "been a while."
"That it has my friend," the guide reached into his pack and pulled out not a coin purse, but a bag filled with bread, "here, I need some information, and I can pay, as you can see."
The small man, Voldrik, was almost drooling at the sight of the bag, "What you need Nightingale? Information? Blood? Both?" There was that word again, Nightingale. She had heard the name before, in old legends. They were supposed to be demons of the night, sworn to the service of the daedra Nocturnal. Surely this stranger wasn't?
Her guide chuckled lightly, "Information will suffice."
The little man nodded, "What needs tellin'?
"I'm looking for a man. There's probably others looking for him too. Has anyone other than me come by looking for someone?"
The dwarf nodded, "Yup, a whole troop of them. Was lookin' for that crazy old man that's hiding in one of the old holds. I sent them the other wayabouts."
Delphine stepped forward, "How long ago?"
The dwarf looked up at her with a scowl, "I ain't talkin' to no lady."
The 'Nightingale' turned to Delphine, "Sorry," he turned back to the dwarf, "Voldric, she's a client. Be nice. Now, how long ago."
The dwarf shrugged, "I sent them a long way back. Maybe ten minutes ago."
"****," Delphine cursed, "the Thalmor are here?"
"They already had the info, we're lucky we are here to intercept them," the Nightingale said quickly. He turned to the dwarf, "Thank you, here, for your loyalty to the Guild," he handed him the entire bag of bread.
The dwarf smiled a one toothed grin, "Thanks, this will feed quite a few bellies." At that he waddled off back into the shadows.
Once he was gone the Nightingale turned to Delphine, "Let's move, we need to beat them to Esbern." She nodded and followed as he resumed his brisk pace. She was amazed by how swiftly he navigated the dark passages. They moved and turned so many times she lost track. When she stopped it took a moment for her to realize that they were standing before a large reinforced wood door, "This is where he should be. Try getting him to open the door."
She walked too the door, and pounded on it, but there was no answer. "Esbern!" she called, pounding again, "It's me, open the damned door."
There was the sound of shuffling, then a familiar voice called out, "Go away you pointy eared bastards, or I'll roast you like a suckled pig!"
"Excuse me," Delphine cursed, "you rotten old bag of wind open the bloody door, it's me!"
"YES!" she heard the Nightingale chuckle beside her, she wanted to smack him beside his hooded head.
"What in the name of Oblivion- How do I know it's you?"
"Open the door and maybe you'll recognize my boot up your ass!"
"Hold on, hold on," the man on the other side murmured, exasperated, "I'm opening the door." For three minutes they waited as they listened to numerous clicks, bangs, and the sounds of chains, as they waited for the doors to open. When the door finally stood open a hand grabbed Delphine and pulled her in; like a shadow the Guild man followed.
Delphine looked at her old friend's face. Age and a life of hiding hadn't treated him well. He'd lost his hair, and weighed much less than she remembered, but still, he was Esbern, the only other Blade left. She embraced him, "Esbern," she said warmly.
"Delphine," he said, then he held her at arm's length, "I thought I'd never see you again."
Than Esbern looked at the Guild man who'd led her here, and his face turned white, "What in blazes is he doing with you!" he cried, pointing at the stranger.
"He's from the Thieves Guild," Delphine explained, "he led me to you."
Esbern shook his head, "Then he lied, he's not Guild."
The stranger held up a hand, "I am a member of the Guild. In fact," he explained, "I'm the Guildmaster."
Delphine raised her brow, "You? The Guildmaster?"
He shrugged, "Who else to complete your little Embassy job but the best?"
Esbern looked at Delphine curiously, "Embassy job? No matter, I've seen his armor before, when the Thalmor hired the Dark Brotherhood to chase me in Whiterun. He's Dark Brotherhood!"
At that Delphine drew her blade with such speed that the stranger didn't have time to respond. This time her blade rested on his neck. She reached with her free hand and ripped off his hood; something she'd been wanting to do since she had meet him. He was young, she noticed. Not out of his thirties, with black hair and green eyes. He was smiling, a bright row of perfectly white teeth, "Dark Brotherhood?" she yelled at him. He stood, his face unchanged and showing no emotion, "Explain yourself!"
He stared at her, "I am both. I am the Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild, but I am also the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood. I am also a Nightingale of Nocturnal."
Delphine's sword pressed against his neck, drawing a small amount of blood, "You bastards attacked my friend."
"The Dragonborn?" the man said nonchalantly, "I know. You managed to kill one of our better assassins that night."
"You bastard," she growled, "you set me up! Am I one of your little contracts? Is that why you wanted to lead me here?"
"A contract is a contract, we do not decide who we kill. We get a contract and we do the deed," he said softly, "but no, I was here on Guild business."
"Well, I don't care who's 'business' you were on," she said sternly, "you're dead." She drew back her sword to make the killing blow.
"WAIT!" he cried, "I can help you!"
She cursed herself, but she paused, "How?"
"There's still a contract out for your friend, the Dragonborn. I'm the Listener. I'm their leader. If I say the contract is null, then they won't pursue him, or you, since there's a contract out for you as well since you killed Azra'nir. Besides, if you kill me the Guild will be after you too. I will help you. I want to!"
"Why in the name of the Divines would you help us?"
His face grew dark, now she could see how he could be the leader of the Dark Brotherhood, "Because I hate the damn Thalmor as much as you do. I know you're a Blade, I know he's a Blade, and I know there's a Dragonborn. If anyone is going to stop those knife eared bastards it's you. I can help. I've got more gold than I know what to do with. I've got eyes and ears in every major hold in Skyrim; Riften, Windhelm, Whiterun, Markarth, Solitude, they're all in my pocket."
"How can I trust you?"
He dipped his head, "I didn't have a choice to join the Family. I had to. I accidentally killed a contract, it was join them or die. When the Night Mother started to talk to me and no one else I couldn't leave. She chose me."
She lowered her sword, "Who are your gods, Imperial?"
He shook his head, "Once, the Divines, but I am sworn to Nocturnal, and maybe Sithis."
"Swear by Nocturnal then," Delphine ordered.
"I swear, by my honor as a Servant of Nocturnal, to help you in whatever way I can to stop the Thalmor, and help the Dragonborn. My name is Cato Aventus."
Esbern nodded, "He swore, Delphine, let him go."
Still cursing herself for not swinging she stepped away, "We need to move, they're in the Ratway."
They opened the door and started walking through the tunnels," There's a hidden entrance to the Cistern here somewhere, a ladder going up. We need to find it."
That's when they heard the shouts, "They went this way!" one called.
"Damn it!" Delphine cursed.
Cato searched, "There!" he called, pointing to a small metal ladder. "That leads to the Guild! Make them seal the door behind you! Quick! Get up! If they question tell them..." he paused, "Tell them, tell Karliah or Brynjolf 'eyes open and walk with the Shadows' if they threaten you. Now GO!"
"What about you?"
He turned to face the rest of the hall, "I'll hold them off. GO!"
She wasn't about to argue. Esbern started up the ladder, she followed. She caught a glimpse of Cato as he slipped into shadows. Then she heard the screams of the Thalmor men. She didn't know who to pity.
Bardak the Bold
Bardak breathed in deeply as he stepped through the great gates into Windhelm. He was home, finally home. The cold air, ancient stones, and the Stormcloak banners all warmed his bones. He had been raised here, he raised his children here, and now his grandchildren called the ancient home of the High Kings their home as well. He smiled for what seemed like the first time since he left.
Of course this wasn't the end of his tour of duty. He had fought many battles in his long lifetime, and he wasn't done yet. He laughed to himself, he probably wouldn't be until he finally died. If he were to die in the service of his would be king then he would die in battle, his forefather's ax in hand and a war cry in his throat. That was the way that Bardak the Bold would die. The only way he would accept his death. He was only here for a few days, to send news to his chosen king of what he had been witness to in Kynesgrove; a man who was Dragonborn. To think of it brought chills; a Dragonborn! The first in centuries and he had lived to see it!
He marched proudly into his city, his triple following him step for step. They were good and loyal soldiers, and he felt a sort of fatherly pride for each of them; especially for Danilla. She reminded him so much of his daughter. Just thinking of her brought tears to his eyes. Each night he dreamed of her. Each night he watched as she rode her white horse into battle, her war cry loud and strong... and the silence when it stopped. The silence that deafened him as she fell from her horse, a spear in her chest and her eyes wide in surprise. The silence that cursed his life as the Empire stole her from him. That silence that fueled his rage for the Empire and what it had become.
He made his way toward the ancient palace. When he reached the door of the kings he turned to his triple and dismissed them. They saluted then dispersed, probably to the tavern he'd wager. As he entered the great hall the Stormcloak guards saluted him, he returned the greeting and continued toward the throne. The long dining table was empty, as it was still early in the morning. Bardak had been here once for a dinner, and such a spread he had never seen before. Ulfric spared nothing when it came to the entertainment of his most decorated soldiers.
The rightful High King himself was seated at his throne at the end of the hall. Just like everything in the city the throne was stone, beside it on either side were large blue banners, decorated with the Stormcloak bear. Ulfric Stormcloak sat back in the chair, his hand raised to his chin in thought. He watched as Bardak approached. The old warrior knelt before the leader of the Stormcloaks, "My King," he said as he took to his knees.
"Rise, Bardak, I received word that you were coming," Ulfric said. His voice was deep, and his accent thick. Bardak stood, his head still bowed. Ulfric leaned forward, his interest peaked, "Tell me about this Dragonborn."
Attn: So, as of now I am completely updated. It took a while because of my lack of computer. My poor laptop no longer has a power jack and it's battery cannot hold a charge. Plus it doesn't even work in Safe Mode. Eh, it's a six year old laptop. I guess it died of natural causes. Now I am borrowing wherever I can, so bear with me on that.
To my 'friend'... did I ever mention I hate you?
Big things happening in this chapter though. Lydia meeting Hod, Cato fending off Thalmor and promising to help the Blades, and now Ulfric is hearing about Revak firsthand from Bardak. Just wait, in a few chapters you're going to be in shock. I got a surprise for you.
Also since someone mentioned the 'issue' with Cato promising to 'remove' the contracts. 1. You never know he might be lying. 2. Just wait until we get to know him better and give it a couple chapters. It will make sense.
I am open to brainstorming ideas with readers. Feel free to PM me anytime here on , or wherever you're reading this fic. I will even let you in on secrets, if you can keep them. I am always open to reader imput.
Aaaaanyways, please review and share. Also, I am making an off site posting of this fic. I am still deciding on the host/building the site. I'll share the link next chapter, or if you ask me I'll hand it over.
The Throat of the World
What is better - to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort? - Paarthurnax
Cato stared at the man in front of him, and at the Blade of Woe in his hand. Was he really going to do this? Kill the Emperor? The Emperor stood behind his desk chair onboard The Katariah. The old Imperial's hands gripped the chair with white knuckles. His head was bowed, ready to accept the death that awaited him at the hands of the Dark Brotherhood. Titus Mede II knew he had to die. He knew the Dark Brotherhood could never deny a contract; especially one that was this important, one that paid such a high bounty.
But he'd stopped Cato when he had entered. He asked not for his life, but for justice. He asked for a new contract. A contract to kill the man who made his original contract. "For the Empire," the Emperor had said. For he feared that the murderer came from within his own Elder Council.
Cato hated this man. He felt the mark of the Legion on his left arm. It felt like it was burning, a fresh reminder of what he lost. Furious, Cato removed his mask and hood, thus revealing his face to the Emperor. His hand gripped the Blade of Woe like it was his lifeline. "You are contracted for death, Emperor," he said slowly.
The Emperor looked at Cato with gentle eyes, like the eyes of a father scorned. "Yes, I must die. And you must deliver the blow. It is simply the way it is."
Cato scowled. He reached for his Nightingale gauntlet and removed it, revealing the mark of the Legion. "Former Prefect Aventus Cato, Third Calvary Commander," he said quickly, like it was practiced. "Not everything is simple," he hissed.
The Emperor was silent.
Cato scowled. "Then you recognize me."
The Emperor nodded solemnly. "I do. Words cannot express how sorry I am so sorry for your loss."
"A little late, your Highness," Cato growled.
"I did what I had to do for the Empire. If I hadn't signed that treaty we would have all been killed. I saved so many."
Cato closed the gap between them. "You betrayed more people than you ever saved."
Titus Mede II dipped his head. "I know. Talos preserve me, I know."
Cato stared. This emperor was just as much a prisoner to the Thalmor as his empire was. He didn't deserve the Void. But it was a contract. The man had to die. Cato raised his dagger, and plunged it into Emperor Titus Mede II's heart. When the Emperor was dead he lifted his body and laid it on his bed, folding his hands over his chest. Cato left his Amulet of Talos wrapped around the Emperors hand.
Cato had realized the flaw in the Dark Brotherhood. There is no honor in killing a man who is already dead. The Dark Brotherhood was nothing but a business, just like Astrid had taught him.
The Legion had taught him honor. The Guild had taught him respect.
And now death was just a business deal.
It was in that moment that Cato decided that he would change the Dark Brotherhood. He would meld the old and the new. It would become a mix of Astrid's way and the traditional ways. He realized the Night Mother needed him more than he needed her. It was the Listener's turn to speak.
That was three years ago.
Cato was only vaguely aware that he was no longer in the Ratway Warrens. His body ached and his head was throbbing. He did not want to wake. He wanted to lay in this numbed stupor for the rest of time. Above all he wanted to sleep, and sleep he did. Cato fell in and out of fitul sleep awoken only by nightmares and when he felt someone forcing potions down his throat. He wanted to let go. That's when he heard a familiar voice.
Her voice anchored him. She kept him from falling into blackness. He reached for her. He dreamed of her in the Twilight Sepulchor. The glow of low torchlight angling her dark features. Her laugh, high bells that rang out in the night. The pain in her eyes when she saw Gallus' spirit failing. His unspoken love for her burned within him, warming him against the cold of death. He loved her, but she loved someone else, waiting for someone else; a dead man, a ghost.
When Cato woke he did so with a start and accidentally scared the poor healer who had been standing over him so much that the Breton dropped the potion he was mixing. The pale pink liquid burned through the sleeve of his robe, and he jumped as he frantically began brushing off the liquid with a rag before it could reach his skin. Cato watched with wide eyes, and the healer glared at him. Cato was too fuzzy to remember to apologize, or maybe he was just too frustrated. He wasn't sure. The Breton gave one last glare and left.
Cato paid no mind. His vision was reeling, and his head felt like it was three sizes to big. He touched his head, just to be sure, and found it to be perfectly normal. He wondered how he had gotten here. He'd been in the Warrens, fighting the Thalmor agents that had been hunting him and his clients. Had he taken a blow to the head? He didn't recall. He gave a mental shrug. He'd remember later. For now he would just deal with the basics. He was back at the guild. He recognized the room, plus he could hear the constant rush of water that indicated he was near the main Cistern. He knew that much, the basics.
He looked down at himself, someone, probably that healer, had removed his Nightingale armor. His chest was bare and his left wrist was bandaged. He tested his wrist and winced. Luck of Nocturnal my ass, he cursed.
His vision was still swirling when he heard a commotion outside. Within moments Brynjolf stood in the doorway. He smiled when he saw Cato was awake. "You," he chuckled, "took a mighty good blow to the head. We thought we'd lost you for a moment there, lad."
Cato smiled and tried to sit up. Then decided to stay down when he started seeing two of Brynjolf, "Nocturnal and Sithis were probably arguing too much over my soul to let me die already," he joked. "Did the others make it? The clients I was with?"
Brynjolf nodded. "For the most part," he explained, "Vex wasn't happy about it. Something about if we let in one set of strangers into the Guild vault we might as well sell tickets."
Cato raised a brow. He had no idea where the passage that he'd directed the Blades to let out. It let out in the vault apparently. "Depends on how much we would charge. Seal that entrance, and I don't want to hear a word about it. I'd rather it be forgotten," Cato ordered. "They were paying clients," he sighed. "Good paying clients. It wouldn't be polite to let them get killed."
"Aye," Brynjolf nodded, "but let's not make a habit of almost dying, huh?"
"I agree," Cato said with a fresh smile. "Are they still here?"
Brynjolf shook his head. "No," he explained, "they left right quick after we decided not to kill them."
"Did they say anything before they left?"
"Something about thanking you for your sacrifice or some noble skeever **** like that," Brynjolf said with a shrug. "But they left a note for you." He reached into his pack and pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper. Cato took it with his good hand and opened it. In a neat handwriting was a message from Delphine.
Thank you for your help. We left you a map of where we're going, if you were honest about wanting to help. We might have use for someone with your skill set.
Cato refolded the note and map and sat up, swinging his feet over the side of the bed. The world wasn't spinning as much and he didn't feel as nauseous. "One more thing," Brynjolf said as he turned toward the door. "Your Family sent a message. You're to meet them at home."
Right, Cato thought. It was mid month; time to speak with the Night Mother in Dawnstar.
It had taken a week for the Greybeards to start treating him normally. For the first few days every time they saw him they'd throw themselves on their knees and Shout 'Dovahkiin' or 'Dovah Do Faal Bron'. One of them, Master Bolli, had actually kissed his shoes once. It was kind of them to welcome him into High Hrothgar so energetically, but it was another thing when he sat up in bed one night to find offerings at his bedside. It took even longer to convince Arngeir to stop calling him Talos. But his time wasn't wasted dodging groveling monks. He studied the texts they offered him, teaching him new Shouts, and teaching him how to speak the Dragon Language. He was quite confident in his abilities to hold a very short conversation with a dragon, should that need ever arise. He had his doubts.
He was returned to the world when a courier arrived and delivered a letter. It was signed 'A Friend', but Revak had no doubt in his mind that it was from Delphine. It mentioned that they were fine, and that if he needed to find them a ruin called Karthspire was a good place to look. Arngeir was concerned that the Dragonborn was receiving messages, especially at High Hrothgar. He was even more concerned when Revak told him that this friend was a Blade.
"It concerns me that you would even associate with them," Arngeir argued at dinner.
"They are my Blades," Revak said sternly. "They are sworn to my service."
"And so are you sworn to theirs! They are violent and short sighted."
Revak scowled. "They are my sworn protectors, and have already saved me once in my time here."
"They would kill all dragons no matter what side they took. They treat them as nothing but beasts!" Arngeir stopped, collecting himself before continuing, "Not all dragons are hostile. We've protected Paarthurnax for centuries. You know that the Blades would call for his head."
"I know. Or do you not remember that I wanted him protected as well?"
"They would call it justice!"
Revak shook his head. "I need them, I need all of you," he said as he scanned the table and took in the expression of the monks around him. This is why he was here. Why a god had to return. For it would take the power of the Divines to make these old enemies come together for a common cause. "Greybeards don't fight wars. The Blades do. I need swords. I need soldiers." He stood, "If you will deny me this, then I will leave tonight."
The Greybeards stood, silent save for Arngeir, "No, holy Talos. We will not deny your wishes, only question them."
"Take me to Paarthurnax."
"As you wish," Arngeir had finally agreed.
Paarthurnax felt the world shake when Alduin returned to the world. It wasn't an earthquake. It was a shiver that shook all of Skyrim. Like the very mountains knew of the evil that had returned to the world. It was a black day, a black day indeed. The Tyrant had risen again.
If the world shuddered when Alduin returned, it sung when the Dragonborn Shouted for the first time. His Voice was carried all the way to the Throat of the World, and the wind and mountains joined in the chorus. It was a beautiful thing to behold. After thousands of years the silence was broken and the world sang once more.
When his Greybeards called the Dragonborn to High Hrothgar Paarthurnax waited patiently for the Dragonborn to speak with him. The ancient dragon was like a hatchling, itching with excitement he had not felt in a millenia. No one had spoken with him in hundreds of years. His friend, the Dragonborn Tiber Septim, the one who the mortals worship as Talos, was the last. He hadn't met this new Dragonborn yet, but Paarthurnax yearned to taste of his Voice.
It wasn't for some time that the mountain groaned as the Dragonborn's Shouts cleared the path to the Throat of the World. When he saw the man clear the summit he felt a sort of pride in his heart of hearts. He was young Nord, his hair short and light. The Nords, he thought, a blessed race to be sure. He was wearing heavy steel armor beneath a dark wool cloak that protected him from the chill in the mountain air.
With a short, deep roar Paarthurnax jumped from his resting place and took to the air. He glided down smoothly until he landed in front of the Nord. The man stood as still as a mountain. His face was stone. He was many feet away from the Dragonborn, but even from this distance he felt it. The power of another dragon. He showed his many teeth in a dragon's smile, "Drem Yol Lok. Greetings," he hummed.
"Drem yol lok, Paarthurnax," the Dragonborn said. Paarthurnax was impressed already by the Dragonborn's knowledge of his language.
"Who are you? What brings you to my strunmah..." he paused, remembering this mortal might not know all the words, " my mountain?"
"I think you already know, In," the Dragonborn said confidently.
"Vahzah... True, but first there are formalities to be observed. Traditions for the meeting of two dov." Paarthurnax raised his head and breathed in deeply. "By tradition it is the elder that speaks first." He turned, and rearing his head, "YOL TOOR SHUL!" he Shouted as a stream of fire erupted from his jaws. Paarthurnax chuckled, "Match it if you can, Dovahkiin."
"YOL TOOR SHUL!" he Shouted, and like the dragon a stream of fire was drawn forth from the Shout. It was strong and loud. His fire was hot and full of life.
But it was familiar. Like a scent that blows in the wind, but then is gone. But the last time he heard that Voice it was... "Daar nis kos. Zu lost hon hin Thu'um ingrah vod!This cannot be! I heard your Voice long ago!"
"I've returned, dov. My name in this life is Revak. My name in my past life was Talos, the Dragon of the North."
"Aam? You are alive?" Paarthurnax snorted, causing smoke to trail from his snout. A fitting name for a man-god. But more importantly Talos has returned? The mortal's gods must be desperate to send their god of war back to Mundus. This was unheard of.
"I've been sent to return to the world to stop Alduin," Revak-Talos explained.
Paarthurnax raised his head in acknowledgement, "My old friend, you seek a weapon against Alduin?"
"Yes, I wish to know how the old tongues stopped him."
"The words of that Thu'um, cannot be known to the Dovah," Paarthurnax said with a low growl.
"A Shout? They used a Shout to stop him?" Revak asked quickly.
"Geh aan Thu'um. They called it 'Dragonrend'. But as I said Dovahkiin, it cannot be known to me. My mind does not even grasp its concept." It chilled his blood just thinking about it.
"How can I learn it, then?"
"The ancient Nords used the Dragonrend Shout to cripple Alduin. But it was not was the Kel - The Elder Scroll. They used it to send him away on the currents of time. Tiid krent. Time was shattered here at the Throat of the World. If you brought a Kel back here, it would show you. Through the Time Wound..."
"I could see the other end of it," Revak finished. Revak bowed to Paarthurnax. "Stay safe Paarthurnax. I will return with an Elder Scroll. We will finish Alduin this time, my old friend."
He turned to leave, but stopped when he heard Paarthurnax speak, "It was good to see you again, Talos. Dahmaan. It brings back memories of times long past."
Revak smiled, "It was good to see you too. I head North. Watch the skies for me, Onik Fahdon. When Alduin is dead, you and I will have a nice conversation."
Paarthurnax hummed, "I look forward to that day, Dovahkiin."
Attn: Hmm, looks like Revak and Cato are both heading North.
If anyone is confused at this point here's clarification. There were 15 chapters. Now there's not. I combined many of them when I was going back over things. The story hasn't been changed very much. But there have been changes. Please note that. If anyone wants to go back and read the new perspectives starting in chapter 3 and onward, go ahead. It's mostly Lydia and Ralof (who will both be returning next chapter).
So, list of what's happening.
Revak is heading North to Winterhold to the College to seek the Elder Scroll. Cato is also heading North to Dawnstar to meet with the Night Mother as scheduled. Delphine and Esbern are making their way to Karthspire to find Sky Haven Temple (though they might not be able to get in). Lydia and Hod are in prison together, both taken prisoner by the Thalmor. Ulfric Stormcloak has learned of Revak from Bardak the Bold.
If you can guess what is going to happen, I applaud you.
List of Phrases in the Dragon Language as they appear:
Dovahkiin - (really?) Dragonborn
Dovah Do Faal Bron - Dragon of the North
Drem Yol Lok - Greetings (literally Peace-Fire-Sky)
strunmah - Mountain
In - Master
Vahzah - True
Dov - Dragon (Dovah = Dragon kind)
Yol Toor Shul- (Fire Breath Shout)
Daar nis kos! Zu lost hon hin Thu'um ingrah vod! - (rough) This cannot be! I heard that Voice long ago!
Aam? - Hmm? (Dragon version of being lost for words, like 'umm')
Thu'um - Shout
Geh aan Thu'um. - Yes, a Shout.
Kel - Elder Scroll
Tiid krent - Time Broken
Dahmaan - Remember
Onik Fahdon - Old Friend
Attn: Thank you all so much for being patient, and a huge thanks to Solavah who dealt with my at times insane ramblings. I am astonished by the amount of attention this fic has recieved, and I thank you all for your reviews, alerts, and favorites. This was an... odd chapter to write. I ended up scrapping three times before I ended up with this version.
Those of you who wanted Thalmor ass kickings... here you go. I also see the buddings of new ideas that I am starting to like, as well as some character developmental stuff and killing things; the usual.
Also I've started a side story for Cato, titled "Epitaph". It's his story before the events in Skyrim, when he lived in Cyrodiil. I suggest you check that out, though it's still in the works.
Note: Cicero's perspective happens at the same time as Hod's. The others are rather obvious.
Double Note: I like violence... sorry. (evil grin)
Blood In the Snow
We're the children of Skyrim and we fight all our lives
And when Sovngarde beckons every one of us dies.
"Oh where, oh where, is Listener?" Cicero asked no one in particular as he paced the Dawnstar Sanctuary. Cicero knew that Mother's Listener was to arrive days ago. Yet, he was not here! What if something had happened to the Listener? Should he go get the Listener? He gazed at the Mother, her beauty was unmatched in all of the world. "If only Mother would speak to Cicero!" he cried. "If only Mother would tell her where her Listener is! Cicero could help Mother, help Listener, help poor poor Cicero!"
"Oh Cicero you thrice damned fool," said a voice behind Cicero, "you hear too many voices already."
The fool turned, a wild grin on his face as he saw the Listener in his intricate black armor. What had Listener called it again? Nightingale armor? Cicero danced and clapped in place. "Listener! You've arrived! Poor Cicero was so worried! Cicero thinks Mother was worried too!"
The Listener held up his hands, "I'm fine, fool. I was just delayed on the road. Trouble with my... other business."
Cicero scowled. "Cicero does not like footpads or thieves. Cicero worries for the Listener when the Listener goes to visit with them."
The Listener crossed his arms. "Who do murderers and assassins have any right to look down on?"
Cicero giggled, "The family does the Mother's bidding! Like a good family should!"
Cicero heard the Listener sigh as he reached and removed his hood and mask. He glanced at Mother's corpse with a slight grimace. Cicero didn't think he wanted Cicero to see the grimace, but Cicero did see. The Listener stood before the sweet Mother, and his eyes locked on her. The Listener was silent, listening, for surely the Mother was speaking to him.
"On the... special contract," the Listener said slowly. He stood silent for a moment, listening to the answer only he could hear. When suddenly the Listener's face looked shocked. "He's a what?" the Listener gaped. Then his expression grew somber, as he once again heard the blessed words.
Oh how Cicero wished he could hear her sweet voice. He had wished for so long for her to speak, to anyone, anyone at all. But Cicero deep inside wished it would be him. Oh he had prayed and prayed to her, for days and nights on end, but she never uttered a word to him. It was... saddening, for poor Cicero. He loved his Mother so much, but she would not speak to him. Did she know how much Cicero loved her? How he had dreamed of her voice every night? He watched in awe as the chosen one heard her words, her blessed voice.
The Listener stepped away from the Night Mother's altar. His face looked confused for a moment, but he shook away the confusion and looked at Cicero. "Tell Nazir to spead the word," he said slowly, "that the contract on the Dragonborn has been... removed."
Now it was Cicero's turn to gape, "What? How can this be dear Listener? A contract can never ever be..." he processed the word, "removed."
The Listener glanced back at the Mother. "I do not truly know. She said he was... an exception."
"This is maddness!" Cicero cried.
"Says the mad man," the Listener smirked. "Anyways," he began, his face sombering, "the contract for his comrade, the woman Delphine, is still active, and has been assigned to me personally. There are no specifications, only that she is to die by my hand," he said sternly. "Spread the word, she will die by my hand alone."
"Of course, dear Listener."
"Also," he said slowly, "someone has prayed to the Night Mother. Send a family member to Windhelm, and speak with the Khakjiit Jas'kar. So begins a contract, bound in blood."
Cicero grinned wildly, "Hail Sithis!"
"Guard!" Hod called out into the darkness. He picked up an empty wooden mug off the ground, and rattled it along the bars. "Guard!" he called again. "GUARD!" he shouted with all his strength, "ARE YOU DEAF YOU KNIFE - EARED SON OF A *****? GUARD!" This had better sodding work or I'm going to pay for this later... probably with my life. But if it meant seeing his family again, he didn't care what he had to do.
A few more calls and insults later a very disgruntled Altmer appeared. His armor glowed from the torch in his hand. "What in Oblivion are you yelling about you ape?"
Hod scowled. "It's my cell mate. I think she's sick."
The mer frowned. "That's your problem," he growled as he turned away.
"WAIT!" Hod called after him, "What if Lydia dies?"
"Lydia?" he muttered. He raised his torch so that the flickering light reached into the far corner of the cell, where Lydia lay motionless in the fetal position. "Damn it," he growled. "Wake up you damn *****" he said, trying to rouse the obviously unconscious Nord.
Hod scowled. "I could have done that you idiot! Get in here and help her!"
"Fine," he said finally, "move aside. I see you move, I run you through, understand ape?" Hod nodded and stepped back a few steps. The guard drew his sword and entered the small cell. He crouched in front of the seemingly unconscious Lydia. Come on, lass, Hod prayed, we won't get this chance again!
As the mer drew close Lydia sprang. She grabbed his legs and pulled. The guard let out a cry of surprise as his legs were taken from beneath him and he found himself on the floor of the cell. He still managed to hold on to his blade, but his torch flew across the cell, landing in front of Hod. Seizing the opportunity, Hod grabbed the torch and thrust it into the face of the still stunned Altmer. The Thalmor guard screamed and struggled as the flames burned his face. His sword abandoned as his hands scrambled blindly for his face. Lydia, now on her feet, and very much healthy, took the elven sword and buried it deep into its former owner's throat. The guard moved no more.
They stood there over the dead guard, catching their breath and taking in the severity of what they'd just accomplished. "Salvage what armor you can from him," Hod said, as he bent over and reached for the keys at the dead elf's belt.
"What about you?"
"You're a much better sword arm than I am," Hod smiled. "Hurry, we need to move." Lydia nodded as she started stripping the dead guard of his armor. Hod grabbed the torch, still burning on the ground and made his way swiftly down the row of cells, opening each. Soon they had a small group of prisoners. Hod had hoped for more, but it seemed that too many were too weak to fight, or even escape.
Lydia appeared outside their former cell, wearing only the gauntlets of the guard. "The rest was too big," she explained.
"Better than nothing," Hod chided. He turned to the prisoners that had joined them, thirteen in all. "We need to get to the surface, we should find a guard's barracks here somewhere, we'll get our weapons there, but for now I think we have the surpri-" he was interrupted as a new figure appeared from behind Lydia. Hod was almost in shock when he saw the chainmail and blue uniform of a Stormcloak scout.
The Stormcloak was equally shocked. The three stared at each other, bewildered. "Wait," the Stormcloak said slowly, "did you know we were coming?"
Both Hod and Lydia shook their heads. The Stormcloak smiled, "That's lucky then," he laughed. "My name's Jorund, I'm here to get you out of here, but I see you've started without me."
"Thank Talos, are there more of you?" Hod said, hoping.
His heart lifted when the Stormcloak nodded. "There's a company waiting outside, we just need to get to the courtyard. Here," he handed Hod an axe. "It's what I've got. We need to move, now!"
They scrambled down the dark hall until they found a spiral stair. They ascended, their shadows flickering in the light of Hod's torch. The door at the top was easily opened with the keys. They charged through the door.
Lydia took out the closest Thalmor quickly; decapitating him like his throat was made of cheese. Hod charged the second, trying to get the surprise, but he was too slow. The Altmer mage turned and cried out right before Hod's borrowed axe sliced his stomach wide open. Hod feared that the rest of the Thalmor guard would be atop them, but they seemed distracted by the gates. Jorund was laughing lightly beside him. When he saw Hod's confused look he laughed harder, "Reinforcements!" he called. He raised his long shafted axe high above his head, "FOR THE STORMCLOAKS!" he cried as he charged.
"FOR WHITERUN!" Lydia cried following him.
Hod smiled, "FOR SKYRIM!"
Their rag tag group collided with the defending Thalmor force. Hod felt everything, saw everything. His mind was a rush of swings and misses, of parries and blood. The entire battle moved in slow motion as the Stormcloaks broke through the Thalmor's barricade. He paused as the first warrior charged the now open gate. Is that? Ralof?
Hod never saw the blow that finally killed him.
Ralof couldn't believe his eyes when he had seen him. He had only hoped that the remainder of his family were here. He'd heard of their abductions a few weeks ago. But he had almost given up hope. Instead he was filled with a new fire. He charged with the vanguard, breaking through the barricade with his comrades beside him. He had never felt more alive. His passion for vengeance burned inside him like a sun. If he had found Hod maybe the others were still alive; his sister, and little nephew.
That was three days ago.
The prison break had been a massacre. He still saw Hod's death like a waking nightmare. It was his fault that his brother-in-law was dead. When Hod had seen Ralof in the battle he paused, only briefly, but long just long enough for a blasted Thalmor to sink his sword through Hod's back. The Stormcloaks were battered back. Hod was dead, and Ralof barely escaped with his life. It was the only thing he could do, and he hated himself for it. He wanted every one of those bastards dead. Instead he ran, assisting the only friendly face he could find. Lydia was injured badly. A Thalmor's blade had struck her thigh, damaging the muscles and making walking difficult. Ralof assisted as much as he could, but there was only so much he could do with weak health potions and dirty rags. They were pursued relentlessly by Thalmor Justiciars. It seemed they could not stop for so long as an hour before having to move again. The constant pursuit only caused more damage to Lydia's leg, and even more for Ralof's morale. They moved slowly, Lydia's arm resting heavily on Ralof's shoulder, lessening the weight on her injured leg.
They fled east, hoping to reach Eastmarch, and Windhelm. It was the only safe place for them now. If Ralof could guess, they were just South of Dawnstar. It wouldn't be too far until they were safe in Stormcloak territory. He hoped. The further the went the colder it became. Soon the green land turned white, and a cold winter chill bore down upon the weary travelers.
"Ralof," cracked Lydia's voice in his ear, breaking him away from his thoughts, "I need to rest."
Ralof nodded, "Of course," he agreed. He glanced around them for a cave, a ruin, or anything that could provide them any sort of brief shelter from the wind. He spotted a large stone outcropping. That will do, he thought. They limped together into the lee of the stone, grateful for the relief from the wind. Oh Skyrim, Ralof cursed.
He gently helped Lydia lay in the snow. She winced as she sat; the movement was tugging at the wound in her leg. She was pale, and despite the drenched in sweat. He handed her the small vial of pink health potion, the last of his reserve. She drank it, relaxing slightly as some of the pain receded. Ralof sat beside her, pulling his sparse cloak around him. The weather was slowly getting worse. They'd get out of this, he knew. They were Nords. But he couldn't help but worry for Lydia. The wound was bad, and if they didn't get to a healer soon it was like to fester. He saw Lydia shiver next to him. He draped his cloak so that it covered both of them, sharing the little warmth that it granted.
"Thank you," she said weakly.
"It is no problem," he said with a weak smile, "we're in this together, right?" She smiled. He returned the gesture. They sat in silence, watching the snow drift with the wind. Soon Ralof's curiousity got the better of him, "Why were you in a Thalmor prison?"
She scowled. "I was arrested for being a housecarl to the Thane of Whiterun."
Ralof raised his brow. "The Thane of Whiterun? Isn't that the one that everyone has been talking about? The one they say is Dragonborn?"
She nodded slowly. "He left to meet with the Greybeards, but I haven't seen him since."
"He didn't take you with him?" Ralof asked.
"No," Lydia said with a small shiver, "Revak and I had a… disagreement."
"Revak?" It couldn't be, the Nord from Helgen?
"What did he look like?" Ralof said quickly. He felt a little stupid; it wasn't like it was a particularly common name. Oblivion he'd never even heard it before he'd met him.
Lydia thought for a moment. "He's a Nord. Young, I'd say in his mid-twenties. Strong. Very short light hair and dark blue eyes."
"He was at Helgen," Ralof breathed, hardly believing this was true.
Lydia raised an eyebrow, "Yeah, he was or at least he told me he was." They were silent again for a few moments. "I'm sorry for Hod."
Ralof hung his head. "He was a good man. He's in Sovngarde now."
"Talos guard him."
"Talos guide us."
Revak pulled his black cloak close to him as the storm grew stronger. He laughed to himself, of everything that had changed in the world in the millennia that he was gone, at least the land remained the same. Brutal. His horse nickered in discontent as it trudged through the freshly fallen snow at a snail's pace. It was a gelding he borrowed from a merchant in Ivaarstead who had been more than happy to sell his horse to the Dragonborn. Perks of being the Dovahkiin. Come on Kyne, he thought in frustration, give me a break.
He had just started debating on whether or not to make camp when he heard shouting nearby. It sounded like someone was in trouble. Without hesitation he spurred his horse to a canter. He reached an outcropping of stone, the voices were coming from below. He dismounted and gazed over the edge.
He saw a group of Thalmor Justiciars surrounding two haggard forms. One was leaning heavily on the other, each had a sword in hand, but they bother looked in rough shape. Revak recognized the uniform of the uninjured form; Stormcloak mail. There were three Thalmor, two swordsmen and a mage, the fourth already dead in the snow at the Stormcloak's feet. Without a second thought Revak attached his shield.
The mage drew flame in his hands, a sly smile on his face. "In the name of the Aldumeri Dominion, in accordance with the White Gold Concordant I sentence both of you fugtives to death. Any final statements?"
"You bastards," the Stormcloak cursed. Revak thought he recognized the voice. Though there was no time to dwell on it.
Revak stood tall. "I have a few words," he said loudly.
The mage stared at him, now noticing the Nord. "Leave stranger, this is no business of yours."
"I think it is," Revak argued as he jumped from the edge landing heavily on the snow covered ground below him.
The swordsmen pressed the group. "Last warning, stranger, leave now or die with them."
"I said I have a few words, " Revak stated a second time.
The mage scowled, "And what would your final words be?"
Revak smiled. "TIID KLO UL!" he called, releasing the energy of the Shout. Time slowed around him. The mage's face was frozen in a grimace as he tried to raise his hands to release a burst of flame. The swordsmen charged, swords still low and their eyes frozen in fear as Revak moved with unnatural speed around them. The first he sidestepped and bashed with his shield. The second he drew his blade upon, tearing through his neck with ease. He turned back to the first swordsman, finding him now on the ground, and stabbed him cleanly in the gut, twisting his blade as he felt it tear through the mer's armor.
As time regained its normal pace Revak had already charged the mage. The Altmer stumbled backwards into the snow at the almost sudden reappearance of the Dragonborn in front of him. "You!" the Thalmor cursed.
"Me," Revak answered as he buried his sword in the elf's heart. Revak pulled his sword free, flicking the blood from the tip and creating a fresh splash of red on the once clean snow. He stopped to spit on the dead Thalmor mage as he returned to the Stormcloak and his ally.
Then he froze.
"Lydia?" he said in confusion, "Ralof?"
Attn: I have a computer again, some large amount of monies later. So I should be back in business. See you next chapter!
List of Dragon Language Translations as they appear:
Dovahkiin - Dragonborn
Tiid-Klo-Ul - Time-Sand-Eternity (Slow Time Shout)
Lydia awoke to the smell of fresh baked bread, and the sound of faint music. Her leg throbbed beneath warm fur blankets. She was warm and comfortable, save for her leg. She felt like she could lay here forever, taking in the sweet smells and soft music. How had she gotten here? She remembered escaping the prison, and being chased by Thalmor agents. She jumped when she felt a cold cloth on her forehead. Someone was with her. The question was, who?
She opened her eyes, squinting in the light. "Welcome back," said a familiar voice. She saw Revak standing beside her bed. He was not wearing his armor, instead he wore a white tunic and black pants. His eyes looked tired, but they brightened as he smiled down at her. He dipped a wet cloth in a bowl of water, and gently pressed it against her head. "Your fever broke yesterday. You've been out for two days.
"Where are we?" Lydia rasped. She was surprised how soft her voice was.
"The Windpeak Inn, in Dawnstar. The Khajiit caravan was in town, and they happened to have a very talented healer traveling with them. "
"My leg," she said quickly, attempting to sit up, but stopped by her swirling vision.
"Will be fine," Revak explained, "in time. You just have to take it easy for a few days. "
Lydia nodded. "Thank you."
"No need," Revak said with a smile, "you would do the same for me." He paused, listening to the music for a moment. His smile faded. "What happened? Ralof told me that you had been arrested by the Thalmor, and that he was with a group of Stormcloaks that attacked the prison. He told me that you were the only ones that escaped. Why were you in a Thalmor prison?"
Lydia shook at the memory of that prison. "They were looking for you."
"What?" Revak said, surprised. "Why?"
Lydia shook her head. "They came to Breezehome, a group of them. They said I was under arrest, and so were you."
"They arrested you for being associated with me?" Revak said with a scowl.
"I think it was about you being Dragonborn."
Revak paused again, nodding. "They must think me a threat."
"Now?" he smiled. "I suppose I am." He stopped, obviously deep in thought. "I'm sorry that this happened to you. It's my fault. I should have figured they would come for you, for me."
"I should have gone with you when you asked me, " Lydia admitted. She'd been so quick to dismiss him before. She never thought that her distrust of her Thane would lead to all of this happening. He had said he was destined to save the world, and that he was sent by the Divines. She had thought it impossible at first. But the more she thought the more it seemed to make sense. It could not have just been luck that Revak was passing by when the Thalmor found them. They had prayed for help, and it came in the form of Revak, the Dragonborn, who dispatched them like they were nothing but wooden targets.
She looked up at him, taking in the sight of him. His hair was slightly longer than she remembered; a testament to the time that had passed since she last saw him. He must have been on the road for quite some time, for the start of a sparse beard was appearing on his cheeks. But it was his eyes that drew her in. Before they had been bright and friendly, but something inside them had changed. His eyes were the eyes of an old man. There was wisdom in them, wisdom of the world, like he saw more than the normal person did. They were experienced eyes. She couldn't help but stare into them, become lost in them like two midnight blue pools that bore into her very soul. He was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Was she falling for him?
What had happened to him on that mountain?
Revak sighed as he took a seat in the small wooden chair beside the bed. He removed the cloth from her forehead and dropped it in to the basin of water, leaving it there. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and hands folded before him. "You had every right not to believe me. I imagine that it was a lot to take in at once," he said a little too calmly. His expression was soft, but she could tell he was holding back. He was angry with her, but the kind bastard wasn't about to let it show.
"No," she said slowly, "I didn't. I made an oath, to protect you, and instead you're protecting me." He was silent as a statue. "I'm sorry." She felt the tears threatening to fall. She held them back. From here on out, I will be there for this man. I made an oath. And I will not falter in whatever he needs me to do. That's how it should have been in the first place.
Revak shook his head. "There is no need to apologize," he said softly. "My story was a little too hard to swallow." His expression turned serious. "But what I told you was the truth; at least, it is what I could tell you. You just need to trust me."
"I trust you."
"You can't go back to Whiterun," Revak said calmly. "They will chase you wherever you go. "
Lydia nodded as she sat up. "I know."
Now it was Revak's turn to rise. "I know somewhere you can go, somewhere with friends." Lydia looked at him questioningly. "It's somewhere safe."
"Where is it?"
"A Temple in the sky," he smiled. "Now rest, we will leave as soon as you are able to travel."
The night was starless, but the moon was full and bright. Moonlight flooded the room, outlining Lydia's sleeping form. Ralof crossed the room as quietly as he could and sat down in the wooden chair beside her bed. He smiled as she started snoring softly. He looked at her, relieved that she was going to live, that they were both going to live.
There was a moment where he wasn't so sure of that fact.
If it wasn't for Revak they would both be dead. It was a fact that Ralof knew all too well. Revak had saved his life. That was the second time Ralof was sentenced to death, and the second time he had barely escaped with Revak at his side. He made a note that if he were ever to be arrested again to bring the Nord with him.
Ralof smiled as he reached over to brush a stray strand of brown hair from Lydia's face, but froze when she stirred. He stood, still as a statue with his hand hovering above her until her breathing steadied again. She was beautiful woman. He hadn't had the chance to appreciate that before since they were running for their lives. But now he gazed at her sweetly sleeping form. He had come to care for her greatly since they met.
His hand strayed and reached for her hand that rested lightly at her side, grasping it gently. His heart jumped when she stirred again, but this time her eyes opened. She turned to him, shocked, but then relieved when she saw that it was only him. "Ralof?" she asked in a curious voice. She began to sit up.
"I'm sorry," Ralof said, backpedaling, "I was just – um…" His words stuck in his throat as his heart was beating so rapidly he felt that it would beat right out of his chest. He quickly took his hand back and stood.
"Ralof!" she cried, her eyes wide in shock. "BEHIND YOU!"
"What?" Ralof cursed as he turned, just in time to see a black form dart in from the corner, a dagger high and ready to pierce Ralof's back. Ralof grabbed the wrist holding the dagger and threw the black figure aside. Ralof heard the sound of metal hitting the ground; the bastard had dropped his weapon. Ralof reached for his blade, but cursed remembering that he had left it in his room, along with his other weapons.
The black clad figure stood straight, and launched himself at Ralof, who only just only managed to repel the attacker. They grappled, spinning as they each tried to overpower the other. Finally the attacker got the upper hand and thrust Ralof into the wall. Ralof heard the sound of glass breaking as he kept his arms on the attacker's shoulders, trying to prevent them from reaching his throat.
He caught movement from the corner of his eye, and he heard a grunt as something fell to the ground. He took a moment to glance over, and saw Lydia on the ground beside her bed, grasping her injured thigh and cursing profusely. The attacker took advantage of Ralof's momentary distraction and kneed Ralof in the groin. Ralof grunted in pain as the knee made contact, and his strength faded for a few seconds. The assassin's hands found Ralof's throat and tightened. Ralof felt the air trapped in his lungs. He panicked, groping blindly for the hired killer's hands and trying unsuccessfully to pull them away. "Someone wants you dead, Stormcloak," the killer growled. "The Brotherhood is 'appy to grant their wish."
"Ralof!" Lydia said, struggling to get to her feet.
"Don't worry lady; you'll get your turn."
"Let him go," said a familiar voice behind them. Revak stood in the doorway. The fight must have woken him from across the hall. He was in his bedclothes, only a pair of black pants, but he had managed to grab a dagger before he'd left his room. The assassin's grip slackened for a brief moment, but it was long enough for Ralof to take advantage of the situation. Ralof kneed the assassin in the groin, a payback that Ralof was more than happy to deliver. The assassin sagged. Ralof grabbed his shoulders and spun the assassin around, holding back his arms and leaving his chest wide open for Revak to attack.
"Do it!" Ralof rasped, his throat burning in pain.
Revak closed the gap, an ebony dagger in his hand. His hands were steady and his face was cold as he aimed the tip of the dagger to the assassin's exposed throat. Without a sound Revak plunged the black blade into the assassin's windpipe and twisted. The assassin twitched once then went limp in Ralof's arms as his life blood pooled at their feet, black in the moonlight. Ralof dropped the dead assassin at his feet, panting heavily.
Revak kneeled, removing the assassin's hood and revealing a dead Dunmer before them. He scowled as he stood, dropping the hood to the ground. "Dark Brotherhood," he said curtly.
Ralof nodded, words failing him as he tried to fill his starving lungs with air. "Why? Who would want Ralof dead?" Lydia said for him as she rose unsteadily from the ground.
"I have a good idea who," Revak cursed.
Ralof had never seen him this angry before. "Who?" Ralof managed to say between pained breaths.
Revak took the blade unceremoniously from the ground, wiping it on the armor of the dead assassin before walking back to the door. "The Thalmor," he growled, leaving Lydia and Ralof dumbstruck and alone.
Revak was silent as he lit the final candle. His armor reflected the moonlight. Revak sighed, his breath becoming a white mist that floated above and then beyond sight. It seemed the world was determined to slow his progress. The Elder Scroll, however, wherever it was, wouldn't be moving. The Dark Brotherhood was beginning to do more than just be annoying. He needed to solve this problem before the pattern continued. If it truly was the Thalmor that were hiring the Dark Brotherhood then he needed to remove the problem where he could, and right now, that was with the Brotherhood.
And he would do that by speaking to the Night Mother herself, through her Listener.
He knew of one sure way to get the Brotherhood's attention.
They prepared the Black Sacrament just outside the city of Dawnstar. The surrounding woods were thick, and this clearing was far enough inside that they wouldn't be heard, save for the woodland creatures. The Sacrament was an ancient rite of blood, a prayer to the Night Mother herself, a call for aid. Once Revak said the words the Sacrament would be finished and an agent of the Dark Brotherhood would meet with him.
Or, at least, that's what Revak remembered of it. It had been a very, very, long time since he called upon the assassins. The black memory was one that he did not want to recall again.
It ritual required few things. Most were easy enough to find,candles, nightshade, and, of course, a corpse. Though the Dark Brotherhood was kind enough to have given them a donation; the dead assassin from the night before lay in the center of the circle. Revak took account of the spread before him and nodded.
Revak kneeled at the edge of the circle, the black ebony blade in hand. Steeling his face he drew the blade across his palm. The cut was not very deep, but it drew enough blood that a few drops fell into the snow. That should get the Night Mother's attention, Revak thought, not only the blood of the Dragonborn, but blood of the Ninth Divine.
The wind grew still as the blood hit the snow, as if the world was listening to Revak's dark prayer. He took the prayer stone and rapped it once against the ground. "Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me. For the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear," he chanted, accenting every line with another tap of the stone. The world remained still, scowling Revak somehow got the feeling he was being blatantly ignored.
Fine, then, he thought with a growl. He had only brought this on once before, but that was after days of meditation and training. Arngeir had pressured him to learn to control what he called Revak's 'Divine Aura', meaning that, for a short time, Revak could call upon his power as a Divine. But it was only for a short time. He inhaled deeply and held it there. He felt the power that was flowing around him, the sky, the moon, the trees, and the very air, all of it held the power of creation, and the power of the Divines was bound to it.
Revak's skin became hot with power. He opened his eyes and saw his skin glowing gold in the moonlight as his power radiated from him. He scowled and chanted again. "Sweet Mother," he said with more command, "sweet Mother! Send your child unto me! For the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear!"
Power drunk, he continued, "As the Ninth Divine, Talos Stormcrown who is also Tiber Septim, I call upon you! Heed my offering, and listen to my command; for I am both man and Divine! Bring me your Listener!" As he said the last words a golden shockwave of power burst forth, and then dissipated along with his Divine Aura.
The world grew cold again, and a chill went down Revak's spine.
In that moment he knew his Black Sacrament had been accepted, and now all he needed to do was wait.
Next chapter should be up very soon.
Cato stood straight. This is insanity, he thought. After all the Thalmor had done, to him personally, never would he allow a contract from those bastards to slip through. Something was wrong with this, very wrong. He felt the mark of the Legion burning like a brand on his arm, a permanent reminder of the life he lost. He never imagined his life would end up like this, a servant to an evil spirit, killing people for the turn of coin. No, he corrected himself, not a servant, a slave.
Memory soon took over him, memories from two years before, a job for the Guild gone wrong, an assassin dead by his hand. Next thing he knew Astrid had captured him, trapped him in an abandoned shack and forced him to join her organization or die. He had no choice, and when the Night Mother began to speak to him he knew that he was trapped for life. He had killed the Emperor. He had killed Astrid when she'd revealed herself a traitor. It was he who had rebuilt the Dark Brotherhood anew, in the hope that it would bring itself some sort of honor. But there was no honor to be gained in the life of a slave, even a skilled one.
"No," he growled, breaking his silence. He tore his hood from his face, allowing the Dragonborn. "I tell you this," the Listener said slowly, "on my honor, the Dark Brotherhood has never accepted a contract from the Thalmor."
The Dragonborn scowled, his blade still hovering in Cato's direction. "Explain yourself then," he said with malice. The Dragonborn was exactly what Cato had expected him to be. The Nord was large and built like a stone wall. He wore fine steel armor, and a horned helm rested on his head, blocking his face and making any attempts to read his expression impossible. His blade was thin and slightly curved; very odd looking indeed. Cato had only seen a blade like that once before, the Blade, Delphine. Yet, despite his obvious rage, the Dragonborn seemed controlled, his body was calm, his actions decisive and calculated. The Dragonborn was a force to be reckoned with, and Cato was not eager to cross blades with him.
Cato shook his head. "The Dark Brotherhood would not willingly deal with the Thalmor," he said, keeping his voice level. "I would never allow it."
The Dragonborn's blade lowered a fraction. "Since when can the Dark Brotherhood choose their contracts? If the ritual is done," his voice trailed.
"The Dark Brotherhood has changed over the last few years," he explained further, "all contracts are decided upon. You have my word, Dragonborn; no contracts from the Thalmor have been accepted." He frowned. "But trust me, they have tried, and been denied at every turn."
"And what of the attempt on my life?"
"That was not a Thalmor contract," Cato said, shaking his head. "I can't tell you who called for the contract, but I can tell you that someone in Whiterun does not like you very much."
"And what of your most recent attempt on my allies?" the Dragonborn growled.
"Allies?" Cato said in confusion. His brow furrowed. "Where?"
"Close by, Dawnstar," the Nord answered curtly. "I will have you know that the assassin failed."
That made no sense. They did not work in Dawnstar as a general rule. The hold was simply too close to their Sanctuary in general and working there would bring too much attention to their residence there. "Who was it?" Cato asked, genuinely curious as to who would be daring enough to encroach upon Dark Brotherhood territory.
"A Dunmer, middle aged," the Dragonborn described, "and dead."
Cato shook his head. "None of this makes any sense," he said furiously, "there are no Dunmer in the Brotherhood, there haven't been in more than two years." They tend to avoid us due the Dark Brotherhood's former rivalry with the Morag Tong, he said to himself.
"He was wearing the same armor as the Argonian in Riverwood," the Dragonborn added, "either you are not as knowledgeable as you think of your own Family as you should be, or this assassin was an imposter."
Or what I was worried about years ago is happening, Cato thought with a chill. The Morag Tong have returned, and are working with the Thalmor.
It was the only possible answer. But why wear Brotherhood armor? The better question was, how did they get Brotherhood armor? Someone in the Brotherhood was supplying these imposters with armor, betraying the trust of the Family, and endangering them all; a betrayal worthy of death. He had been wondering where the missing funds had disappeared to.
What was he to do? Conducting an investigation would be almost as dangerous as letting the traitor go free. The Brotherhood hated him as much as he hated them; save for the damn fool. They knew he resented his position, and they in turn resented the changes he made. Many thought Astrid a better leader, even though her actions led to the near extinction of the organization. There was only one way to ensure that the link to the Thalmor was destroyed, the Rite of Purification.
But to do the Rite on the Dawnstar Sanctuary? It was the only one left in the world. It was the resting place of the Night Mother herself! To set fire to it would eradicate the Brotherhood completely, it would cease to exist.
He would be free.
"Have you returned to your silence?" the Dragonborn barked.
He is impatient when angered. "No," Cato said quickly, "there is only one answer to this impersonator. There is a traitor within the Dark Brotherhood." Cato held back a smile, he didn't care who the traitor was at this point, and it gave him the excuse he needed to eradicate his slavers. And what can the Night Mother or Sithis do? I am sworn to Nocturnal, and so far she's watched over me. He couldn't do this before, not on his own, the Brotherhood would have overpowered him, but with the Dragonborn at his side he could do it.
"And what do you plan to do about it?"
Cato took a few steps toward the Dragonborn. "Purification, the Brotherhood must be cleansed. Though you must understand, this is the last Sanctuary in the Brotherhood. If this is done, the Brotherhood will no longer exist."
The Dragonborn looked taken aback. "You seriously would do this?" he asked, shocked.
"I never wished to become the Listener," Cato said, grating his teeth in frustration as he did. "I am a slave."
"You need help," the Dragonborn said, it wasn't a question.
"Yes," Cato said, nodding, "there are too many to handle alone."
"Let me gather some friends. You won't be alone in this," the Dragonborn answered, a faint smile flashing beneath his helm. He sheathed his sword.
The Dragonborn's friends were an impressive group. There was a Nord woman, she walked with a limp, but the determined look on her face spoke that her condition did not hinder her abilities. According to the Dragonborn she was his houscarl. The other Nord was very skeptic of assisting him. He was a Stormcloak, and the target of the false Brotherhood assassin. The final member was a giant Khajiit that wielded two equally large battle axes. The Dragonborn had advised him that the Khajiit did not need to come, but the Khajiit just smiled and said he needed some practice anyways. Since their group was large enough they could cover all the exits. Cato posted the two Nords at the secret entrance just south of the city.
They made their way to the Sanctuary. They stopped at the door. The Khajiit raised his brows at the image on the door. "Not very welcoming is it?" he commented, not taking his eyes off the grisly image of Sithis devouring his children.
"The Dark Brotherhood has a different meaning of that word," Cato said with a scowl turning from the entrance to the Dragonborn and his Khajiit companion. "There are nine in there total," he said, briefing the two. "Most are recruits, the main three you need to worry about are masters; a jester, a Redguard, and a child. But everyone there are murderers."
"A child?" the Dragonborn said in shock.
"She's a vampire."
The Dragonborn shook his head in disgust. "Malik," he said, addressing the Khajiit, "stay here at the entrance. Should one make it past me and our
friend here, make sure they don't get far."
"Of course," the behemoth Khajiit said, dipping his head. "Come back soon though. It is cold out here."
The Dragonborn smiled. "Then maybe you shouldn't have a bare chest," he said with a light laugh.
"It looks much more intimidating though," the Khajiit said with a pointed grin.
"Looks cold, that's what it looks like," the Dragonborn chuckled with a shake of his head. Turning away from his companion he laid his sight on Cato. "We're ready when you are, Listener," he said attaching his shield to his left arm.
Cato nodded as he made his way to the door. A familiar disembodied voice filled the air, "WHAT IS LIFE'S GREATEST ILLUSION?"
"Innocence, my brother," Cato answered, resting his hand on the Nightingale Blade.
"WELCOME HOME," the voice said as the door unlatched itself and swung open.
Immediately upon entering a voice filled his head. "Listener, you return. I know what you mean to do. Stop now, before you regret your decision, my child. There will be no turning back."
I'm not your child! Cato responded silently.
I can't betray what I was never part of.
When they reached the bottom they were greeted by one of the newer recruits. His name was Toret, and he had joined a mere three months ago, a murderer from Solitude. Judging by the expression on Toret's face he hadn't seen the Dragonborn behind Cato. "You're back," Toret said. "What happened? You ran out of here like you saw a ghost." Cato didn't say anything as he drew his blade. "What are you doing?" Toret said, taking a step back. Cato stepped aside, revealing the Dragonborn stepping from the shadows behind him. Toret's eyes grew wide as he saw him.
Cato closed the distance between himself and the amateur assassin with only a few steps. "The sins of the wicked must be baptized in blood and fear," he said, swinging his blade easily through the assassin's neck. The body landed on the floor with a sickening crash. Cato and the Dragonborn stepped over Toret's headless body as they made their way to the main hall, where they found a small group of lower ranking assassins. No sign of Nazir, Cicero or Babette.
They stood, seeing Cato and the Dragonborn with drawn weapons. One brave Breton stepped forward in an attempted to greet the Listener. Cato greeted him in return by driving his sword through the recruit's belly. The recruit gasped as Cato drew his blade away and kicked his body aside. The others, realizing that Cato was not here to visit, drew their blades, a motley assort of swords and daggers.
"You betray me! YOU BETRAY YOUR FAMILY!" screamed the Night Mother in his ear as the first recruit charged Cato, his sword high above his head. Cato sidestepped, causing the recruit to run directly into the Dragonborn's shield. He was knocked back, stunned. The Dragonborn took the opportunity to slice the recruit's throat. With the assistance of the Dragonborn at his side, Cato cleared the room. He did the math in his head, Four left.
They descended further into the Sanctuary, finding the training area empty they went deeper into the dormitories. Cato smiled when he looked down the long hall to find both Nazir and Cicero waiting for him, both of them ha their blades drawn. "Have you gone insane?!" the Redguard yelled.
"No," Cato said, ever closing the distance between himself and Nazir, as he drew his silver dagger with his left hand.
"You're a traitor! I knew you were! I knew you weren't to be trusted! And now you die for it!" Nazir cried as he charged. They were a flurry of blades, until Cato suddenly disappeared. Nazir cursed. "Coward!"
Cicero spun, giggling as he tried to find Cato, but to no effect. Instead, he turned to the Dragonborn, sprinting forward and leaping with his daggers ready to strike. The Dragonborn caught both the blades on his shield.
Meanwhile, Cato reappeared, this time behind Nazir. He grabbed the Redguard from behind, and thrust the Nightingale Blade through his chest. Nazir sputtered, spraying blood. "You," he gasped, "bastard."
Cato watched in shock as the Redguard fell. He was elated, but empty. The dead man before him had followed him for years, and though they hated each other, it was an odd feeling staring down at the dead man. It was a sour feeling of relief. Shaking himself from his emotions, Cato turned his attention to the fool, who was happily hopping back and forth and stabbing at the Dragonborn in absolutely no pattern whatsoever. So far, Cicero had done nothing more than annoy the Nord it seemed, as every time the Dragonborn stabbed forward with his sword the jester would happily dance away.
Finally, the Dragonborn seemed to have enough of it and he took in a deep breath and Shouted. A wave of energy burst forth from the Dragonborn, sending the knife-happy little fool flying past Cato. The jester end up sprawled on his back halfway down the hall in a daze. The Dragonborn made a move to finish the fool off, but Cato stepped in front of him. "This one is mine," he growled. He looked down at the jester, who still had a stunned grin on his face as Cato drove his sword through Cicero's heart.
The Dragonborn gave Cato a look. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting to do that," Cato explained. Then he cursed. Where was Babette? "Look for a little girl," he announced to the Dragonborn. "She looks about ten years old, brown hair, evil red eyes." The Dragonborn nodded, but they searched the entirety of the Sanctuary, coming to no avail. The little she-demon was not there, causing a stream of curses to flow freely from Cato as he and the Dragonborn ascended the stairs to make their way back to the surface.
Along the way Cato stopped before the corpse of the Night Mother, who was surprisingly quiet now, when before she'd been a constant buzzing in the back of his head. The Dragonborn, seeing Cato pause, nodded and left, leaving Cato alone one last time with the Bride of Sithis. "It's over," he said, a faint smile on his face. "I'm no longer your slave."
"You will regret crossing me! I am the Night Mother, the Bride of the Void, Mistress of-"
"Yeah," Cato said, interrupting her. "I'm done listening to you."
Nothing but blessed silence.
As he made his way up the stairs to the main door he couldn't escape the feeling of being watched. He reached the alcove and turned, unable to shake that feeling. It felt like a chill going down his back. He drew his silver dagger, and out of pure instinct stabbed into the corner, and was shocked to find he'd actually stabbed something soft.
Immediately, Babette's tiny form appeared around the dagger, which was buried deep in the center of her chest. The little she-vampire stares at her chest and the silver dagger protruding from it. "How?" she gasps as she sinks to the floor.
Cato stared at her, his smile concealed beneath his hood. "Nocturnal's luck." He watches as Babette struggles trying to staunch the bleeding wound as Cato pulls the dagger away with a twist.
"You destroyed us," she breathes.
Cato kneels in front of her, removing his hood and meeting her blood red eyes with his green ones. "Not entirely," he said softly, "but luck is a fickle lady, whose side do you think she's on?"
Babette gaped as he rose and left her where she sat fighting for her existence, already feeling herself crumble.
When Cato returned to the surface he felt like a new man, a man free from the shackles of an opposing evil that had been weighing him down for two years. He found the Dragonborn waiting for him, as well as his Khajiit companion. Cato removed his hood and smiled. "It's over," he said, almost not believing his own words.
The Dragonborn smiled back at him. "Indeed it is," he said with a smile.
"What will you do now?"
"I think I will keep a promise I made to someone not too long ago," he said with a coy smile. "Which means I'll be going with you."
"Wait," the Dragonborn said, surprised. "What?"
"Who do you think helped Delphine find her Blade friend?"
The Dragonborn smiled wider. "It looks like we have much to talk about," the Dragonborn laughed as he offered Cato his hand. Cato shook it with a smile. "Revak."
"Et tu, Brute?"
Almost seven years ago, in Elsweyr…
Shiara smelled of spices and her laugh was like a chorus of bells. He was young and she was his world.
The door slammed behind him as he took Shiara's hand. He heard his father's curses stabbing into his back as they left. "We will leave," Malik said as they rounded the corner he pulled her along into an alley. He took her hands in his and stared into her golden eyes. "We will leave, maybe go to Rimmen, or maybe even into Cyrodiil." The moonlight made her white and grey fur look almost silver in the moonlight, making her glow in the night.
She looked down. "What about my family? Mal, what about your father?
Malik shook his head. "What about us?" Shiara sniffed. He leaned in and rested his forehead on hers, trying to close the world away. He knew this was going to be hard for her. "Forget my father. From now on it's only you and me." He gently raised her chin so he could look into her eyes. "I love you."
He heard angry voices coming from the street. "We need to go," he sighed. He took her hand again and led her through the small village. They moved quickly and silently. The end of the village was in sight, but the road was blocked by three of the Imperial guard. "What is this?" he growled.
"Malik, son of Ramar'jo, you're under arrest for treason and assisting a rebel faction," the Imperial soldier said, his voice emotionless. But his bare steel spoke more loudly than words ever could.
He growled loudly. He drew his axes, one in each hand. "Shiara, go now!" he called, but was shocked to find that she wasn't moving. In fact, she didn't look scared at all. "Shiara," he said, not wanting to believe what he was thinking.
"No," he said softly, his voice heavy. "You…"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry."
"No," he repeated, his heart sinking.
"Drop the weapon, cat."
"NO!" he roared, putting power behind his voice, a true roar. The Imperials were buffeted by his sudden outburst and hesitated. Malik charged, burying one of his axes into the chest of the first Imperial with ease. The second charged him, but Malik, being Cathay-raht, towered over them. His size and strength alone put the Imperials at a severe disadvantage, and at this point, he was fueled by pure rage. He let the beast within take over. He parried the attack and then cut the Imperial's arm off. He grabbed the Imperial by the head and threw him into the wall, where his head collided with it with a sickening crunch. Only the commander was left. The officer charged, but was too slow. Malik parried the blow, twisting his axe and disarming the Imperial. Then Malik nearly cleaved his head in two.
Breathing heavily, Malik turned. Blood covered his chest, crimson against his orange and black fur. He froze when he saw Shiara still behind him, frozen in fear. Malik collected his second axe from the body of the first Imperial, returning both his weapons to their holsters. He turned to Shiara, towering over her, their chests inches from each other. With a bloody hand he gently lifted her chin so that he could look into her eyes one last time.
"Malik, I-"she started. He shook his head. She shook hers, tears welling in
her eyes. "You father…" Alarm bright in his eyes, Malik stepped away from her. While he was fighting they were attacking his father. Without giving her a second glance Malik ran back the way they'd come.
Shiara smelled of spices and her laugh was like a chorus of bells. He was young and she was his world.
When he arrived his heart sank. The door was broken down. As Malik stepped through the threshold he realized he was not alone. A small squad of Imperial Legionnaires, including the Legate himself, and the Thalmor ambassador were there surrounding his father, who was on his knees and bound. By the time Malik could draw his axes the soldiers already had their weapons drawn and pointing at him. He was trapped.
The Legate's armor shined in the candle light, making light's dance on the ceiling. His plumed helm covered his face. The Legate ignored Malik and continued speaking with his father. "Ramar'jo, you are under arrest for the act of treason. You will be tried by the courts of Rimmen to decide your sentence."
"So be it," Ramar'jo said, his voice only a whisper. "I know you are only a dog, Legate," he said, his voice growing stronger, he looked at the Thalmor, "trained to heed your master's commands."
"Father," Malik whispered. Even now his father tested the patience of the Empire.
His father smiled. "You came back, cub. Remember today. Remember what I fought for, my son."
The Thalmor growled. "Enough of this," he said harshly. He drew his sword.
The Legate stepped in the way of the Thalmor. "What do you think you're doing?" he accused.
The Thalmor pushed the Legate away. "I'm finishing this before it gets out of hand." At that the Thalmor raised his blade, and sank it into Ramar'jo's chest. The old Khajiit shuddered once and fell to the ground, unmoving as black blood pooled beneath his body. Malik let out a cry of pain as his father fell to the ground. His heart not believing what he was seeing.
The room froze. Even the soldiers blocking Malik at the door lowered their weapons. The Legate looked at the lifeless body, and then he glared at the Altmer, his anger obvious. "What the **** was what?!" he yelled, pointing at the dead Khajiit.
The Thalmor sneered. "Your job."
The Legate took a deep breath, and removed his helm, revealing a young black-haired Imperial with green eyes. He pointed at the High Elf. "That wasn't what I came here for," he spat. "I came here to issue the Emperor's justice, not commit murder!"
"Justice is swift, Imperial," the Thalmor said impatiently, "I suggest you remember that."
"You bastard!" Malik growled. The growl was loud and long as he stood. He was ready to tear both of them to pieces with his claws.
The Legate turned to Malik. "I'm sorry; this isn't how it was supposed to happen." He faced the Altmer and thrust his helmet into the mer's hands and turned away toward the door.
The Thalmor laughed. "Your father was right, Legate Cato, you are a lost cause."
"Talos have mercy on you," the Legate said solemnly. Then with amazing speed the Legate Aventus Cato drew his sword and plunged it into the chest of the Thalmor agent. The Elf gaped at the sword in his chest. "Justice is swift," the Legate echoed as the Thalmor fell off his blade and fell to the ground, dead. The Legate looked at Malik, who was frozen in shock. "Run," he said quickly, "get out of the country." Malik hesitated. "GO!" the Legate ordered.
Malik never looked back.
Shiara smelled of spices and her laugh was like a chorus of bells. He was young and she was his world.
Malik was starting to think that perhaps he should have listened to the Dragonborn's suggestion of a coat. Malik shivered slightly as he crossed the road to the inn. The Khajiit caravans were settled outside the city, and not permitted within its limits, and, despite his assertion to the town guard that he was not a member of the caravan, he was forced to camp with them. The wind was blowing fiercely, and the chill nipped at his nose as he began to jog to the door. Warm relief greeted him when he stepped inside, and his ears were deafened momentarily as they adjusted to the lack of wind inside. The hearth was roaring, but the inn was mostly empty, even the Nords knew better than to leave their homes in a blizzard. The Khajiit probably knew better too. So, he thought with a chuckle, what does that make me?
The inn keep glared at him as he stood stooped in the doorway, his head and shoulders covered in cold, wet snow. "Good afternoon," he greeted as he shook his head and brushed off his shoulders, letting the slop fall to the floor. The inn keep's glare became more heated than the hearth fire. Raising a brow Malik glanced at the now puddle at his feet. "I can clean this if you wish," he offered, embarrassed.
The inn keep shook her golden head. "It's not the water I'm worried about; it's the smell of wet fur."
Malik gave her a pointed grin. "Better than the special last night," he mused.
"What was that delicacy? skeever surprise?"
She frowned. "It was chicken."
Malik's grin grew. "I am fooled then. I would have sworn it was skeever. Whatever it was, I apologize that my 'wet fur' intruded upon its odor." The inn keep threw her hands in frustration and walked into the back room. He was used to criticism from the Nords. The people in Skyrim were not used to seeing Khajiit, especially one that did not travel with the caravans. Many thought that those who weren't with them were thieves and beggars.
Ignoring the angry inn keeper, he saw a familiar figure waiting for him. His heart beat a bit faster as he saw the former Listener of the Dark Brotherhood. Of course, that's not who he recognized the Imperial as. No, he remembered him from many years ago. He was barely an adult at the time, but he would never forget that man, the man that was there the night his father died, the ignorant Imperial Legate that followed his commands without really understanding them; Legate Cato, loyal to a fault. The failed rebellion that no one would ever know existed, he mused to himself, and his father was the head of it. This man might not have killed his father, but he might as well have. But Malik also knew that if it weren't for this man, he wouldn't be alive.
The Imperial smiled and nodded in greeting, then offered his hand. Returning the smile Malik took it. "All goes well, my friend?" Malik asked.
The Imperial nodded. "Since the Purification, yes." Does he really not recognize me? Malik wondered.
"That is good," Malik said with a soft smile as he started to make his way down the hall to where he knew that the Dragonborn had planned to meet. Cato followed alongside him. "So, fancy armor you wear."
Cato grinned. "Should be, I got it from a daedric prince after all."
"Really? Must be some story."
"You have no idea," Cato said with a laugh. "I only had to uproot the entire Thieves Guild to uncover a plot to destroy it from the inside. Then I had to sign a contract using my soul. "
Malik raised a brow. "Like I said, some story. You should tell it to me some time."
"When this is over, of course."
They were stopped by Lydia, who had taken up a guard's position outside her Thane's door. Ever since her injury the Nord woman had taken her task of guarding the Dragonborn to new heights. She never let the poor man from her sight. Just as the other Nord, Ralof, never let her stray from his. Malik knew a love triangle when he saw one; just maybe this one hadn't made itself obvious to the three involved. But he had decided not to mention it. After all, it wasn't his place.
She was wearing her steel armor, and her hand was resting on her blade.
"Lydia," Malik said with a smile.
"Malik," she responded, her face a stone. Giving her one last pointed grin he stepped through the door, but was surprised when he didn't find Cato following behind him anymore. He turned and found Lydia square in the doorway, blocking Cato's path. Both their faces were stone.
"May I enter?" Cato asked politely, stepping back to give the obviously angry Nord her space.
Her hand gripped her sword in earnest. "Over my dead body," she growled.
Sighing, Malik took a few steps back to her, and rested his clawed hand on her shoulder gently, chuckling softly. "I don't think you remember who you're talking to," he said slowly, his voice low. Cato gave him a death glare from the hallway. Malik shook his head, becoming serious. "He is an ally, Lydia."
Malik could almost feel the anger radiating from her. "After everything the Brotherhood has done to us? Attacking the Dragonborn? Ralof? He can't be trusted!" She didn't take her eyes off the former Listener as she said it, her eyes staring into his eyes with hate.
"I wasn't the one who attacked him," Cato argued.
"But you paid the one that did," she growled. Cato shook his head in silence.
"Not only that, but you're Thieves Guild now too?"
Now Cato stepped forward, fueled by frustration. "I am here to help Dragonborn," he said, pointing at Lydia, "not to explain myself to you."
Lydia stepped forward. Cato was large for an Imperial, but the Nord woman still stood even with him, enough so that he was pushed out of the way when she moved forward. She drew her blade, so that the raw steel could be seen, a threat. "You might have fooled Revak," she hissed, "but not me." Giving him one last glare she stepped aside, letting the Imperial finally enter. She followed him inside.
They found Revak already chatting with Ralof. The Dragonborn stood when he saw the three of them enter. He gestured for them to take a seat. They did so, save for Lydia, who stood by the interior doorway after shutting it behind them. Ever vigilant. Malik couldn't help but catch the brief eye contact between Lydia and Ralof. He chuckled to himself.
"Thank you for coming," the Dragonborn began his voice soft and low. "I thought we should we should decide upon the next course of action."
"Meeting with the Blades?" Cato suggested.
Revak shook his head. "No, we will not go to Karthspire yet. Sky Haven Temple will still be there. No, I came north to seek advice from the College of Winterhold. "
"To stop the dragons?" Ralof asked. "What could the mages have to stop the dragons?"
"Specifically one," Revak explained. "Remember Helgen? The dragon that attacked?"
Ralof nodded solemnly. "The black one."
"Yes, that was Alduin. He is not just any dragon, he is a sort of… god. He is meant to destroy the world. Legend says he was made by Akatosh in the beginning, but instead of destroying the world, Alduin sought to control it. "
"You're fighting against a god?" Lydia said from the door. Malik agreed. It was unseemly.
Revak shrugged. "It's been debated on whether Alduin is indeed a god, or a tool gone rogue. Either way he needs to be stopped." Revak shook his head. "Alduin's true power comes from Sovngarde, where he devours the souls of the warrior dead for power. The soul ceases to exist and it gives Alduin strength. Even Sovngarde isn't safe."
"How do you even plan to stop this thing?" Malik said slowly, not quite believing what the Dragonborn was proposing. Killing a god? Who were they to do such a thing?
"Only a Dragonborn can defeat him. I can use the power of the dragons against him, just like the Dragonborn long ago, but they only defeated him. I plan to kill him."
"Using what?" Cato asked, leaning back in his chair.
"A Shout," Revak said simply.
"A Shout?" Ralof repeated. "That's all you have? I know the power of the Voice is one to be reckoned with, but against a dragon god?"
"The Dragonborn of old used it to stop Alduin once before. I need to learn it."
"What about the Greybeards?" Lydia said quickly. "You went to them didn't you? Wouldn't they know it?"
Revak shook his head. "No. Even their leader doesn't know. They lead me to this point."
Cato leaned forward. "What about the Blades?"
"I haven't seen them since Delphine and I went our separate ways after Kynesgrove. The words to the Shout were lost in time. I need to learn it from those who made it; the ancient Dragonborn. And I will have to use and Elder Scroll to do it."
"The Elder Scrolls disappeared when the Thalmor tried to take them from the White Gold Tower," Malik remembered aloud, "no one knows where they are."
"No," Revak defied, standing up. "There has to be a way to find one."
The group was silent in thought. Then Cato stood a foolish grin on his face. "I know where there might be one that the Thalmor haven't gotten a hold of." The others looked at him to urge him to continue. "The predecessor at the Guild, he had an affinity for rare items, things to use as treasure, not for sale. He kept a record, a list of rumors. It's in my safe at the Cistern."
"There is an Elder Scroll on this list?" Revak asked.
Cato nodded. "I planned on going after it myself someday."
"Wait," Ralof interrupted with a raised brow, "how in Oblivion did the Thieves Guild find where an Elder Scroll is?"
"If the stories I hear are true they did steal one before," Revak said.
Cato nodded again. "Yes, around the Oblivion Crisis. The Gray Fox managed to steal it."
Lydia grunted. "Of course he did," she said under her breath.
Ralof smiled at her, and then turned to Cato again. "So where is the Elder Scroll they had?"
"No idea," Cato said with a shrug. "Disappeared with the rest I would guess. I don't know how Gallus figured out where this one was, but he did. I can't really ask him with him being you know, dead."
Lydia rolled her eyes at the Imperial. "Charming."
"Enough," Revak ordered as he turned to Cato. "Where is it?"
"A Dwarven ruin called Alftand," Cato answered. Malik fought back a hiss. Dwarven ruins were not high on his list of places he'd happily volunteer to venture. They were full of strange traps and machines, and if he believed any Nord adventurer, full of spinning blades of death.
Revak nodded like it made sense. He paced for a moment. "I know where that is. East, into the mountains." He paused for a moment, listening to the sound of the storm outside. "I leave when the storm stops." He had a point there. Storms like the one going on outside could last for a week in Skyrim.
Lydia was the first to protest. "You mean 'we'."
"Lydia," he faltered, "I-"
"Have been running around the countryside for months, while I sat either in an empty house or in prison," Lydia hissed. "I'm not leaving your side this time, my Thane. "
"Neither am I," Ralof said as he stood. He looked at Revak, his eyes fierce with determination. "It started with us Revak, remember? Helgen started this. That dragon, this Alduin, needs to be stopped, and I will be at your side just like when we faced death at the hands of the Empire, we'll face it again together." That and you want to stay as close to Lydia as physically possible, Malik thought with a grin.
Cato nodded. "And I promised Delphine that I would help you any way I could, and besides it's not like I've got much else to do. Bryn can take care of the Guild for now. I never betray a promise." Loyal to a fault, Malik thought again.
Lydia gave him a look. "A thief with honor?"
Cato smirked. "Not as rare a creature as you think."
"I will follow as well," Malik added. "Someone needs to put your internal organs back when some Dwarven contraption disembowels you." That and I want to keep a close eye on the former Legate. Lydia smiled at him, he returned it. They had become good friends while he tended to her injury. They were nothing more than friends of course, despite Malik's constant innuendos.
Revak look touched. "It's dangerous."
"So is taking a piss on a windy day," Malik scoffed. Revak smiled softly. Malik smirked. "We know the risks, Dragonborn. You may be the only Dragonborn, but that doesn't mean you have to stand alone."
"I know," Revak admitted, "thank you."
Ralof put a fist over his heart. "It is an honor, Dragonborn."
Lydia put a fist over her heart as well. "Talos guard us."
Revak smiled widely.
Ralof sat up with a sigh. His room was dark, save for the crack of light coming from ajar door. He swung his legs over the side, his bare feet hitting the cold wooden floor. He rubbed his eyes. He just couldn't sleep. Anticipation welled within him; he was too excited to rest. He shoved his boots on, and made his way to the hallway.
The inn was quiet. No visitors would dare leave wherever they were during a blizzard. You could freeze to death, get lost, or, more recently, attacked by a dragon. It seemed as though he was the only one that couldn't sleep, or at least that was what he thought until he saw a familiar figure standing outside Revak's door. There Lydia stood, still in full armor, like a sentinel.
He smiled. "Lydia," he joked, "I doubt anyone is going to come for Revak during a blizzard." She shrugged. Ralof shook his head. "Have you slept at all tonight?"
"No," she admitted.
"Ah," he said with a small smirk, "and what use would a half-awake housecarl be in a fight?" Her response was a grunt. Ralof leaned on the wall across from her and slid down it. "Fighting dragon gods, finding Elder Scrolls, travelling with huge cats and assassins," he said with a sigh. "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
She smiled. There's that beautiful smile, Ralof thought, returning the smile. "It's more exciting than being a Whiterun guard, that's for sure."
Ralof raised a brow. "You were a guard in Whiterun?"
She nodded. "At least until I got removed from duty." Ralof motioned for her to continue. He almost thought he saw her blush, but it was too dark to see for sure. "It wasn't my fault. I got into too many fights, with other guards, citizens, jerks at the bar," she said, counting off on her fingers. "Soon the captain just let me go, saying that I was one of the best fighters he'd ever seen, but that there was only so far he could cover for me."
"Wait," Ralof began with a chuckle, "so you just started fights with people."
She shook her head. "No, they were criminals, most of them; at least I knew for sure some of them were. But apparently I was too rough when it came to arresting them."
"Like the man who was killing his neighbor's chickens," she explained. Is that the blush again? "I punched him in the face."
Ralof was taken aback. "You hit a man for killing chickens?"
"He was being arrested for killing chickens," she explained further. "He got punched because he took the opportunity to grope me while we were bringing him to the jail." She paused. "I broke his nose actually, and knocked out a tooth," she thought back fondly.
Ralof shook his head. "You city folk are strange, so much crime."
"Where are you from?"
"Riverwood," he said softly. Thinking of Riverwood, of home, made him think of his sister's family. He doubted his sister was alive, and his nephew. He had heard that he was in an orphanage, but he couldn't trust the Empire. He would find out what happened to them, no matter what the cost.
Lydia seemed to pick up on his distraction. "I'm sorry," she said sadly. "Hod was a good man. I…" She paused. "I'd probably be dead if it weren't for him.
He was your brother-in-law?"
Ralof nodded solemnly. "He was a good man, a kind man. I was proud to call him my brother."
Lydia nodded. "What about you? Do you have any more family?"
"No," Ralof said, shaking his head. "Gerdur was my only family left, the rest either were killed or died young." They were quiet for some time. "You really should sleep, Lydia."
He rolled his eyes and returned to his room. If he couldn't sleep he might as well be of use. He quickly put on his armor, strapped on his axe and belt, and made his way back to Lydia, who looked at him with wide eyes when she saw him in full armor.
"What is this?"
Ralof smiled. "Your relief."
"My what?" she said.
"Just go to sleep," he said.
"I'm fine," she said stubbornly.
"Please? I can't sleep anyway," Ralof said softly.
She smiled. They held the connection for a moment before the stubborn housecarl let him relieve her of her post. But she paused before making her way to her room. "Is that an Amulet of Mara?" she asked, a huge smiled beaming on her face.
Embarrassed, Ralof pushed it back into his armor. He must have forgotten to hide it beneath like he usually did. "Umm, I, uh" he mumbled. She made her way slowly down the hallway, before getting to her door. She gave Ralof a small smile before closing the door.
The rest of the night Ralof was grinning ear to ear.
Revak was torn. He didn't want to lead these people to their deaths, or otherwise. But on the other hand, he knew that he needed strong people around him to accomplish what he needed done. He sighed. The most frustrating part of being a god was not being able to help the mortals without intruding upon their free will. If a god stepped in and made everything better, then would they really be the same people they were before the god stepped in? Think of a blizzard. It was dangerous and damaged property. It was cold and uncomfortable. If a god were to come in and take every bad storm away, make it perfect weather all the time, then the Nords wouldn't be the hearty, strong people they were. Nords were the children of the North, of the cold and the harsh.
This always gave Talos an interesting perspective as a god, because he lived as a man once before. He knew the struggles that were survival. He would even admit wondering what the gods were for, besides watching. Then he became one. He learned the limits they had, the sacrifices they made for the world. The Aedra didn't just make the world. They sacrificed their own power to create it. The gods were willing to do more than watch, but they just couldn't. It was a fact. Their energy wasn't theirs, it belong and existed in the mortal world. In fact, Revak knew that it was this energy that he called upon when he channeled his Divine Aura. Even that energy was limited. But he could do more as a man than he ever could as a god. As a god he was mostly a voice on the Pantheon, here he could use his words to alter actions, or if it was needed his blade. The gods didn't pity the mortals, they envied them. Revak remembered the determined faces of his friends as they agreed to help him on what might be called a suicide mission. These were the sort of people that would make the gods jealous.
The storm had ended three days ago. As soon as they were able Revak lead the way down the south road to get to the base of the mountains. The Khajiit caravan loaned them a wagon, which Revak's horse was strapped to. They weighed the wagon down with their traveling gear, tents, and tools; much of it donated with kinds words from the Khajiit. They were a generous people, and perhaps they figured that if they helped the Dragonborn then maybe when a dragon tried to roast them that he would be there to help. Not weighed down with packs they made good time. Like machines as the sun began to fade over the horizon they made camp. Revak took the moment to look at the map. If he was right on the location of the ruin, they would be there within three days, maybe two.
As he left his tent he almost collided with a wall of black and orange fur. Revak smiled up at Malik, who returned with a pointed grin. The behemoth cat put a light hand on Revak's shoulder and guided the Dragonborn to the campfire, where Cato was already cooking. "I found some rabbits," Cato said, stirring the kettle. "I figured a hot stew."
Revak sat on one of the rocks arranged around the fire. "Sounds great."
"Yes," Malik said, taking the seat next to Revak. "But who decided the former assassin gets to cook?"
Revak chuckled lightly, but stopped when he caught Cato's glare. "Because you cat people use Moon Sugar in your food," Cato chided.
Malik shrugged. "Not in all of it."
"The only thing dangerous about my cooking is maybe the amount of pepper I use," Cato explained as he handed a bowl to Malik. "But don't tell Lydia I made it. She'll starve herself."
Revak shook his head as he was handed a bowl of stew. Making sure that the others were still engrossed in their conversation he sniffed the broth, checking for poison. It wasn't that he didn't like Cato, but old habits die hard. It never hurt to be cautious. Revak took a sip of the harmless stew. Then he coughed. Eight Divines and me, that is a lot of pepper, he thought, grabbing for his water skin.
Revak took a large drink from his water skin, making Cato laugh. "So," he said, whipping the excess water from his lip, "where are Lydia and Ralof?"
Malik smiled like he just won a lottery. "Out on a patrol."
Cato shook his head. "Do you have to make everything into that."
"No," Malik admitted with a shrug, "but the gods gave me a talent. It would be disrespectful not to use it."
"I think it's nice," Revak said with a smile. "They've both been through a lot, it might be a good thing. Are they officially together?"
Malik grunted. "No, but they will be soon, if I have anything to say about it." Revak laughed. The biggest Khajiit in the world, also self-appointed match maker.
"Because of course, you have infinite experience with these things," Cato mused, digging into his stew.
Malik was silent. Revak looked at him with concern, but the Khajiit was hard to read. Instead, Malik set down his still full bowl and marched to his tent. This wasn't like him at all. Revak had never seen him angry, always upbeat and sarcastic, a great warrior, maybe, but never moody. Revak glanced at Cato who shrugged. Revak returned to his meal when he saw Ralof and Lydia returning from the woods. He had a guess that it wasn't just the cold that was making their cheeks red, but he wasn't one to comment.
They finished their meals, and went to bed. Revak was not quite asleep when
Cato came to wake him for his watch. With a grumble, he stumbled out of his tent, glancing over as Cato shrugged his way into his. The fire was still strong, but Revak eyed a small hill. He wrapped his cloak close and ascended. He could still clearly see the camp, but from here, the stars were easier to see.
A few minutes had already passed, when Revak suddenly heard movement from behind him. Immediately his hand went for his blade. He tensed as a large white wolf came from behind the tree across from him. It did not attack. Instead it circled him, looking at him with golden eyes, then its eyes began to glow green. It stopped, staring at him. He was ready to draw his weapon when he heard a voice stopping him. "Calm, Dragonborn." The voice was deep and powerful, yet was musical. It was soft like a whisper in his ear, breathing hushed words. He recognized it as a female voice.
"Who-" Revak began, but the wolf padded forward a few steps.
"I know you, Tiber Septim," the wolf said as its ears poked forward with curiosity.
His hand stayed on his weapon. "What are you, creature?"
The wolf made a deep growling sound that Revak recognized as laughter. "I am a wolf," it said coyly, stepping even closer.
"Obviously," Revak said sarcastically. "Who are you?"
"There are many names for who I am. Dear Talos, surely you recognize me?" it mused.
Revak thought for a moment. "Kynareth?" he said excitedly. Instead of answering it began to walk away, heading for a thicker part of the forest.
Cursing, Revak followed. He found her sitting in an outcropping. Revak kneeled in front of the white wolf. "Is it you, Kyne?"
The wolf nuzzled his hand. "Yes."
"How are you talking to me?"
The wolf looked into his eyes. "Unlike the Others, who merely helped create and form this world, I am a part of it. Every creature of the wild is a loyal subject, a friend. This wolf was more than welcoming in my possession of her, so long as I keep her safe and return her to her pack. For her, it is an honor."
"It is good to hear from you," Revak admitted. "I've been a bit worried that the Divines had abandoned me."
The wolf looked at him questioningly. "They have not forgotten you, Talos, or should I say Revak?" She showed her teeth in a wolf's smile. "In fact, it is discussion of your situation here that takes up much of the Eight's time as of recently."
Revak was confused. "What is happening, Kyne?"
She showed her teeth in disgust. "The Eight were not united in bringing you here Talos. At the time they simply followed Akatosh's direction. But now that Alduin has shown himself…" the wolf whined softly. "There are those that would want you either dead, or returned to the Pantheon. They may not be able to come to Skyrim themselves, but they have powerful worshippers, all. Tread with care."
"This is insane!" Revak argued. "If they had issue they should have said something in the Pantheon."
"You must take care, Talos," she warned. "Now that you've begun to understand your power in this realm… there are consequences in the realm of the Divines."
"When you use the power of the Creation that is left latent in the world you weaken those alive in it. You aren't drawing power from just the air and earth, but from those with you."
Revak shivered. "If I take too much…"
The wolf's head lowered. "Then you can destroy what you are trying to save."
The two Divines were quiet for a few moments. The sun was beginning to shine through the tree line. Soon there was the sounds of wolves howling in the distance. Kynareth stood, the wolf's ears perked forward. "The wild calls this subject to return home," she said. She padded forward a few steps before looking back. "I am with you man-god, take my blessing. The wild will not be a danger to you anymore." Revak saluted her as the wolf's eyes turned from green to gold once more. The wolf, now itself again looked at him, as if recognizing him, then padded away into the forest as the dawn crept above the trees.
Author's notes: I know I promised some people that big stuff was going to happen in this chapter, and it will. This is only Part One of this chapter. The rest of the chapter is in the works, but as long as it was getting I think that it needed to be split. As it was this chapter was going to be somewhere between 12k to 15k in words. That's just a bit too much and I think it works cutting it off here. Part Two will obviously come soon.
Now why all this 'part' stuff. It WAS one chapter. But I feel that splitting it into two simply works better. But I want the same title and mindset for both. They are meant to flow together, unlike some of the others with which there might have been time in between them. As it is this chapter is over 6,000 words long.
Otherwise, this is a lot of character development. Not only that but we get Malik's first real perspective. Plus maybe a bit of a revelation?
Thanks to Shadowblade911, who's been a big help. He's writing a pretty awesome Naruto fanfic called "Fang and Fox" I suggest you check it out. CABBAGES!
As for my reviewers... Thank you all so much! If it weren't for you guys I would have stopped by now. My friend and I have nicknamed every review 'cocaine' because literally every time we get that email that there's been another review it's like a high for us! Now, only if we didn't get strange looks for exclaiming "I'VE GOT CRACK!" in crowded areas...
Sovngarde BeckonsMalik was ranting about herbs as he dug through his bags trying to find his small knife. Lydia watched, a smile was on her face, she tuned him out long ago. Her mind was far away. Specifically, it was two tents over. She smiled to herself. Ralof was a good man, a true Nord, and an honorable warrior. And he fancied her, she knew. She couldn't help but feel for him too. He was a gentleman, and they had saved each other's lives, more than once. She thought back to the day that he'd stood against the Thalmor agents that had been hunting them. They had seen the elves coming, and had a short time to ready themselves. She could barely stand, and she told him to run, to leave her. But he would not leave her side. "They'll never take us," he had said.
"Fear cuts deeper than swords..."
- George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
She remembered when she had woken in the middle of the night to Ralof sitting beside her. He didn't know she was awake, only feigning sleep. She felt him take her hand in his, and her heart leaped at the contact. His hands were rough and calloused, but his grip so gentle, so caring.
And he seemed to soak in every moment she granted to spend with him and not at her Thane's side. It was a strange thing to think, that if it weren't for Revak they would never have met. She would still be a sham of a city guard, and he would be fighting in the Stormcloak rebellion. He mentioned to her about returning to the cause, but not until after they'd helped the Dragonborn. He had said that there was no point in fighting a war for land if there was a chance that that land would be no more.
He told her stories of his family, of Hod, his sister, and his little nephew. He talked of childhood adventures. She told him her story, growing up a ward of the Jarl, working for the city guard, meeting Revak. He told her of how he had met Revak and how they had escaped Helgen by using underground tunnels beneath the keep.
She laughed easily with him, and most importantly he understood her dedication to Revak, that was obvious the night he took her post at his door, the night she noticed his Amulet of Mara. She felt the weight of her own weighing on her chest. He didn't know, of course, that she wore one of her own.
"Lydia?" a voice said, breaking her from her thoughts.
"Sorry," she apologized as Malik looked at her curiously, but the smirk on his face spoke volumes.
"Ah, in deep thoughts?" Malik snickered as he made his way to her. Lydia smirked back at him. She knew that Malik was trying to push her and Ralof closer together.
"Something like that," she said with a smile. The Khajiit laughed as he knelt beside her. He drew the knife slowly and expertly over the bandages on Lydia's leg. Lydia stood as still as a statue, not that she didn't trust her friend's steady hand of course. Within seconds the bandages were off. Malik smiled as he reached for his water skin. "Well?" she asked.
He opened the skin and began pouring cool water over her wound, gently wiping away any leftover salve. "It looks much better," he said as he closed the skin again and hid it away on his belt. "You will not need wrappings any longer. But," he said holding up a finger, "you will need to take care." She looked at him and he explained further, "The wound is healed, yes, but there was damage to your muscles."
Lydia scowled. "What does that mean?"
Malik frowned. "It means it will never heal," he said softly, "at least, not completely." She looked at him, confused, he continued, "It will always hurt." He reached into the small pouch at his waist and pulled out a small vial, with pink liquid inside. Lydia recognized it as a health potion. "Taking regular health potions will help," he explained, handing Lydia the vial, "once a day or whenever the pain is too much."
Lydia looked at the small glass vial in her hand. If this was what she needed to do in order to remain at the Revak's side, then she'd do it, though she did not like having to be dependent on potions in order to do her duty. She downed the vial in a quick toss. It smelled strongly of rose petals, yet tasted like something else that she couldn't place a finger on. Whatever it was, it was disgusting and oversweet. Soon the constant ache in her leg dulled. She handed Malik back the vial with a small smile of thanks. "That should be it for tonight," he said, replacing the vial in the pouch. "I will have more tomorrow, and…" he paused as Ralof appeared at the tent entrance, his smile soft.
"And I think," he said with obvious amusement, "that is my queue to take my leave."
Ralof beamed. "Hello Malik," he said brightly.
Malik smiled back at him as he passed the Nord. Lydia smiled as Ralof walked towards her, sitting beside her and taking and kissing her hand. Lydia saw as Malik looked back with a devilish smile.
"And remember," he called back, "you should be fine for any strenuous activities." Ralof looked back at the Khajiit with a raised brow, but the cat's grin only grew larger. Lydia blushed. "Oh,"
Malik added, "if you need any contraceptive tea made, I-"
"MALIK!" they both shouted at him at once.
Jorund paced impatiently in the holding room, which was a feat all its own considering its small size. The guard stood by the door, watching him with eyes hidden beneath a helmet. Jorund was becoming increasingly less tolerant of the sound of his own worried footsteps. He stopped and crossed his arms, eyeing the guard. "Are you people at least going to tell me why I've been taken into custody?" The guard didn't move or even make a sound. Jorund groaned. "I've been blessed with a mute then?"
The guard shifted slightly. "Irileth instructed we were not to talk with you."
"But you're talking to me now!"
The oaf shook his head. "Only to tell you I can't talk to you."
Jorund sighed and threw up his hands. "You're worse than a woman!"
The guard straightened. "Says the Stormcloak," he said simply.
Jorund scowled. Damn inbreeds, he thought, turning his back on the guard. He hoped, no he prayed, that the Jarl would not accept Ulfric's offering, if only to weed out these pathetic wastes of Nord blood. It was almost a waste of time, him going to Whiterun to give Balgruuf a last chance. Everyone knew he was in bed with the Empire. Damn Ulfric and his damned love affair of "ancient traditions". As it was, Skyrim needed to be cleansed of these milk drinkers. It was known that the Jarl of Whiterun drank deep from the teat of the Empire, only he was too cowardly to admit it lest the might of Ulfric Stormcloak come crashing down upon him.
He glanced at the guard again. The guard was not a large man, a common sized Nord, but Jorund was easily a larger one. That and he'd bet this man was unblooded, most of these sods were. They had never seen a battle in their lives, only petty thievery and drunken brawls. They were not true Nords, these Southerners. He was sure he could easily handle this sad excuse for a warrior. After all, he was Stormblade. It was he that survived the botched prison break. It was he who defeated the drauger lord and retrieved the Jagged Crown. In the end it was he who had Ulfric's favor. He'd earned his place by the blood of the Imperials.
And it would be he who stormed Whiterun's gates and cleanse this cesspool with fire and blood.
A pound at the door tore him away from his thoughts. With a glance at the captive the guard opened the door.
Jorund had to fight the urge to spit in distaste.
He had heard of it before, it was a well-known fact, but perhaps a part of him hoped that it
would prove false. There, in the doorway, stood the housecarl Irileth, a dark elf! Dunmer! Houscarl to the Jarl no less! Irileth stood two heads shorter than the Nord triple at her back. Her skin was the shade of nightshade. Her scowl did not make her countenance any less revolting. They say she was the Jarl's mistress, secretly of course. Anyone willing to bed that filthy thing must have courage, at least Jorund could grant the man that. "Hadvir, return to your post," the dark elf ***** ordered the guard, who offered a salute before leaving the room.
It was just unnatural, a Nord taking orders from a blasted Dunmer. Did that sod have no honor at all? This thing should be put in its place. Jorund met her scowl for scowl. "Finished searching my belongings yet?" he said with more than a hint of malice.
If possible her scowl grew longer. "Yes," she droned, "you claim to be a messenger, yet we found no papers among your things."
Of course she would be blind sighted by one of the oldest Nord traditions. "Some messages," he said, taking a step forward and towering over her, "are not meant for paper."
"Is that so?"
"Return me my things and take me to your Jarl!" he all but growled.
"I think it would be better if you were to leave."
Jorund shook his head. "Do what I ask and I shall on my own time, elf."
She thought for a moment. "Very well," she sneered, "but be aware you will be under constant guard."
"Fine," he huffed. The dark elf turned and started down the hall. Jorund followed with the triple following at his heels, a streak of blue lost in a sea of yellow. She led him to the main entrance. Jorund collected his things, careful to keep Ulfric's package in its wrappings. It felt good to have his sword at his hip again. "To Dragonsreach then," he said, tucking the package under his arm.
It was mid-morning, and already the small town was busy. It seemed a decent place, save for the people. Oh, there were Stormcloak agents here, some more secretive than others. The Gray-Mane family was rather well known for their support of the rebellion. But there were others, more secluded, friends sleeping until the need arises.
Dragonsreach towered over the town, bold and ancient. If one believed the tales it once held a captive dragon. What a sight that must have been! There were rumors of a new Dragonborn. An old Stormcloak brother claimed to have witnessed the man kill a dragon and take its soul. That man Jorund wanted to meet. A true Nord, the Dragonborn!
If it were possible the palace looked much bigger up close. Heavy wood doors opened upon their arrival. Next time I come through these doors, he thought, will be on the cusps of victory.
The warmth of the great hall greeted him. A mighty hearth fire protected against the cold of the new winter's chill. At the very end sat the Jarl himself, dressed in leather and fine furs. A gemmed golden circlet rested on his blonde hair. His beard was braided and full. Jorund chuckled to himself, If it weren't for the circumstances, I might have respected this man. As it was that was never likely to happen. Jorund noticed Irileth take immediately to the Jarl's side, her hand ever on her weapon.
"So," Balgruuf said, seeing the Stormcloak, "Ulfric Stormcloak once again sends one of his lackeys instead of giving me the chance to deny him to his face?"
Jorund bowed, only slightly. "You must understand, Jarl, that Ulfric Stormcloak is a very busy man."
"Aye," Balgruff agreed, "it must be quite taxing, tearing Skyrim apart with his petty civil war."
"As you wish, Jarl."
"What is it then, Stormcloak?"
Without a word, Jorund unwrapped Ulfric's war axe. It was a plain but fine weapon made of fine steel and superb craftsmanship. Upon seeing the axe the dark elf's hand gripped her weapon tightly. But the Jarl ignored her, for he knew its meaning. He stood and made his way to the Jorund, who offered him the axe with a slight bow. Balgruuf took it, weighing it in his hands. "So," he said, his voice soft, "it has come to this…"
"You belong to me…"
No, Cato tried to deny, but the words wouldn't form on his lips. He opened his eyes, but was still only able to see an impenetrable darkness. Chills ran through him, making him shiver in the dark. The voice came from all around him, familiar, yet strange. Terror consumed him.
"You feel this…"
Pain racked his body. His very bones felt like they were aflame, his skin melting away from his flesh as a fire consumed him from within. He screamed a soundless thing that only seemed to make the pain more unbearable.
"Your soul is mine to take, mortal."
Cato was unable to answer. He thrashed against binds that he could not see, trying to escape unseen flames that surrounded him. Mercifully the pain dulled, still there beneath his skin, but he was no longer thoughtlessly consumed by it. Help me. Those were the only words he could think as the fire began to rise again.
Then there was light, a dim torchlight that made flickering shadows dance around the walls that surrounded him. He stood at the end of a long hallway. Sensing freedom he started forward, hoping, and praying that some god might take mercy on him. He came to a door, a broken, beaten thing. Tangible darkness crept from beneath the crack below the door, slowly devouring any light that came in contact with it.
The chill returned, and Cato cringed, fearing the pain would come with it. Instead, Cato felt a chilly hand on his shoulder. He turned stiffly, and then fell to his knees as he saw the face of the person behind him; a woman, a beautiful Imperial woman, his love, his wife. Her arms held a small bundle.
He moved to embrace them, tears of joy welling in his eyes. She smiled, but then her mouth opened in a soundless scream as he touched her. He looked down, only to see his blade sunk deep into her belly. The baby fell, head hurtling towards the ground and hitting it with a sickening crunch. The woman fell from the sword to join the child, dark sticky blood pooling as her life began ebbing away. Cato fell to his knees, his hands trying to staunch the flow, his hands now covered in her black blood. Her eyes stared at him with glazed wonder, blaming him, pleading why, why would he do this?
Sobs wracked his body as her heart stopped.
"In the end, you will always be mine."
Cato looked at what were his wife and son, and he could not deny it. The image of his love's blood on his hands was burned into his mind as once again the world was consumed in darkness, as once again he was consumed in darkness.
The darkness took over, consuming the room slowly. The familiar terror at the edge of his consciousness…
It would always be there, he knew. He took his head in his hands, but there was no one there to hear his screams.
There was only the darkness, the Void…
He jolted awake. He was drenched with a cold sweat, and his heart was in his throat, pounding. He sat up suddenly. He was in his tent, the Dragonborn stood in the entry, the flap behind him keeping the cold of Skyrim at bay. The Nord looked at him curiously, his hand on his sword lazily. "Expecting a dragon?" he said.
Cato stared in shock to find his dagger in his hand. When had he drawn his weapon? "I-uh," he stumbled, "not exactly." He sheathed the weapon. "Just dreaming about an old love."
The Dragonborn chuckled at that and glanced at the blade in Cato's hand. "I take it ended badly?"
Cato nodded grimly. "To a point."
The Dragonborn shook his head, grunting in understanding. "We leave in an hour for the ruin."
Cato nodded. With a dip of his head, the Dragonborn left. As soon as the Nord was out of his sight Cato sighed. The dream was still fresh in his mind. The pain lingered even though he was almost positive that it had never been there in the first place. The vision of his wife and son… what was that dream? Never in his life had his dreams felt so real. He shivered. What truly bothered him was the sheer presence in the dream. He wasn't alone, something was there, creating these images and forcing them on him.
Worst part was whatever was with him in the dream, whatever that feeling was…
He still felt it now, and he was sure that he was no longer dreaming.
With a resigned sigh, Cato strapped on his armor, because, if he remembered right, today was the day they reached Alftand.
Cato knew the dangers of dwarven ruins first hand. It was but a few years ago that he and his fellow Nightingales tracked Mercer Frey to the ruins at Irkngthand. The dwarves might be extinct, but their machines lived on. Each ruin was teeming with traps that waited to crush, burn, or disembowel any who dared venture into them. And Cato knew that Alftand wouldn't be any different.
Cato pulled his cloak closer around him. It had finally stopped snowing, but they were still in the mountains and the chill of the wind bit deeper than the snow that had gathered at his boots. The climb was dreadful, but the Dragonborn led them without stopping.
It was early in the afternoon when they finally reached the top of the mountain cliffs that housed the dwarven ruin. The group paused when they found a sort of base camp there. Tents lay scattered around what at one time must have been campfire. Small wooden huts surrounded the camp as well, including many worktables. The camp felt unnaturally cold. Cato had to fight back the urge to whisper. "A bandit camp?" he said, breaking the silence.
Ralof stepped forward. "Or maybe treasure hunters?" He placed his hand on his ax as he made his way toward one of the buildings, stepping inside when the door swung open on its hinges.
Malik leaned near the remains of the fire. "This is old," he said, lifting a half burnt log and examining beneath it, "weeks old perhaps."
The camp was old, that much was obvious. The ground was covered with a thick blanket of snow, and there were no footprints or impressions other than their own. The Dragonborn made his way to one of the snow coated tables. Cato followed beside him. The Nord brushed away the snow, revealing numerous papers and books, all frozen and crisp. Cato took one of the books. It was worn and old, but the cover was still legible. "Antecedents of Dwemer Law," he read.
The Nord picked up another. "Dwemer History and Culture," he read. "Not exactly light reading," he said, putting the book down.
Cato nodded. "Indeed." Researchers were Cato's best bet, maybe even those from the Mage's College in Winterhold. He had heard that there were those there who had a special interest in the technologies of the Dwemer. "Maybe a research team?"
Revak grunted. "Whoever was here," he said, fingering through a stack of stiff papers, "they left in a hurry. Books are expensive, and an expedition like this must have cost a good amount of gold."
Ralof joined them. "The shelters are bare, nothing but empty cots and rags."
Malik came to the workbench and picked up Dwemer History and Culture and began paging through it. "Where is this ruin by chance?" he said. "I see ruins, but I don't see a main entrance."
"I think I do," said Lydia's voice from near the cliff face. Cato looked at Revak with a curious brow and the group joined her. Lydia was looking down, the color was drained from her face, and Cato could see why. There, on the face of the cliff made of ice and snow, sat what some would call a sad excuse for a staircase winding down. It did not look stable at all; in fact Cato was sure he saw it swaying in the breeze ever so slightly. It creaked from the weight of the snow that covered it. Cato looked at the others, and saw all of them had the same impression of the staircase, a general consensus on their faces that it was not safe.
"So," Malik began, leaning ever so slightly to look over the edge, "who's going first?"
For a second Cato thought they were looking at him for an answer, and then he realized that they were suggesting that he go first. His eyes pleading, he gazed at each of them in turn. "You have got to be kidding me," he groaned.
He looked at the Dragonborn for help, his eyes pleading the Nord to see sense. Nervously, the Nord rubbed his neck, obviously unsure of what to say. He made a quick glance at the entire group and sighed. "Well," he started slowly, "you are the lightest of the group."
"You have got to be kidding me," Cato repeated.
"What?" Lydia mocked, crossing her arms with a wicked smile on her face. "Is the king of the sneak thieves afraid of a stair?"
"No," Cato answered, his malice at the thought of being scapegoat obvious. "I'm not afraid of going down some steps. I'm nervous at the thought of falling down a cliff. Completely different." It's not that he was scared of heights, more that he was scared about heights where he couldn't see the bottom.
Cato felt the Dragonborn's gauntleted hand on his shoulder. "You'll be fine."
Cato scowled. "If I die…" he started with a hint of a growl. With a resigned sigh he made his way to the beginning of the stair. He felt their eyes piercing his back. Gingerly, he made the first step, holding his breath as his foot crunched through the layer of fresh snow to the wood beneath.
And then he felt himself falling as his foot broke through the board. He yelped and tried to jump backwards, landing hard on his back, his foot still partially through the hole. Nocturnal, he cursed, staring at the sky, you *****.
"Watch that first step," he said calmly, ignoring the sound of sjirachiing behind him as he stood. He took the next step, and soon he found his way to the edge, where a rickety railing separated him from the world below. He'd been worse places, this much he knew. He turned to find the others following him, the Dragonborn leading followed by Lydia at his heels and Ralof and Malik in tow, careful to avoid the newly made hole.
They reached the entrance, a deep cave built into the cliff. They gathered together, gaping into the abyss that awaited them. The Dragonborn stepped forward, adjusting the shield on his arm. "We go in together," he said, turning to them. "Cato I want you on my left, Lydia on his left. Lydia, keep your shield up and stay by my side, if anything happens we make a shield wall. Cato, we run into trouble you fall back behind me and Lydia. Malik and Ralof, you have the rear, keep whatever may be in there from flanking us." He paused. "Divines guide us," he said a little softer.
Ralof reached beneath his mail and pulled out a chain. Cato recognized the amulet as an Amulet of Talos. "Talos guard us." Cato couldn't help but see the look on the Dragonborn's face as he gazed at the amulet. Our Dragonborn is a Talos worshipper then. Makes sense.
In formation, three in front, two behind, they entered. Cato held up his hand and muttered a spell under his breath. A soft green glow appeared in front of his hand and floated above them.
"Mage light," he muttered. The Dragonborn nodded.
The walls seemed to be made of ice, drilled deep into the ground. Their breaths were white on their lips. The mage light danced along the walls, leaving the tunnel with an eerie green glow. As they descended there were more and more remnants of habitation; a crate here, an old lantern there. Cato gazed with slight curiosity at a sweet roll on a plate that was placed on a stool, almost as if the person had merely stepped away and was coming back for it. Ignoring the pastry, they continued.
"Hold on," Ralof said, halting the group. He was pointing down at a dark smear on the ground.
The Dragonborn looked at it more closely. "It's old."
Ralof nodded. "But something happened here."
The Dragonborn stepped away from the blood. "Let's keep moving."
So they continued. Cato kept his eyes peeled for any sign of traps. At this point it was obvious that there had been people working here. And that something had happened to them. Cato hoped whatever befell these workers wouldn't happen to them.
As they descended the ice covered tunnel soon turned to stone, the air became hot and humid, and there was were sounds echoing off the stones, deep and thrumming. The very walls seemed to hum, and the clanks and bangs of machines could be heard in the distance. "Gods," Lydia cursed after a particularly loud bang, "what was that?"
"The dwarven machines," Cato answered quickly. He stopped with a wry smile as he glanced at Lydia. "What? Don't tell me the mighty, ever loyal housecarl of the great Dragonborn is afraid of a few bits of scrap metal?"
Lydia glared at him, and opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted by the Dragonborn. "Enough," he ordered.
The Khajiit huffed. "If I have any say, it is perfectly normal to fear these 'bits of scrap metal'. If the stories I have heard are true, then it is wise to be wary of these machines."
The Dragonborn shook his head. "We need to move. I-"
The group closed around each other, their hands on their weapons in anticipation. There were more bangs and clicks… then the unmistakable sound of many metal prongs skidding over stone.
"Spiders!" Cato called, spotting the metal bug as it rounded a corner, and there were more coming. He drew his sword, knowing that arrows would do no good against the metal hide of the spider. He'd learned that in the pursuit of Mercer.
"Stay together!" the Dragonborn ordered. He stood shield to shield, an imposing wall.
The first of the spiders reached them. Lydia cut at it with her sword, but the mechanical beast only slowed a little in its pursuit. Frustrated, she bashed at it with her shield, knocking it back further.
More machines came at the group, surrounding them. Nightingale Blade in hand, Cato slashed at the nearest one, but it still came closer. With a curse Cato realized he would need to outsmart them. They were only machines, what would they know of magic? Cato willed himself into the shadows, blending in and disappearing from where he stood. The machine paused for only a brief moment before starting towards Malik, who was already dealing with two other spiders, an axe in each hand. The creature was distracted, which meant Cato snuck behind it easily, piercing through the dwarven metal to the soul gem at its center. The machine froze and started to smoke before falling to the ground and moving no more, as Cato once again melted into the shadows.
Cato took the chance to take in the situation. Ralof, wielding his two handed axe, had no trouble in smashing them to bits, the resounding crash of metal hitting metal resounded even in the noise of the ruins. While Lydia was bashing them with her shield, then stepped aside as the Dragonborn Shouted them, flame being summoned on command and melting them and frying their machinery.
The Khajiit, it seemed, had his own manner of defeating the mechanical beasts. While one axe was buried in the metallic remains of one spider he had grabbed the other and lifted it then, one handedly, threw it into the wall, effectively smashing it and breaking off most of its limbs. The poor creature still tried to attack, only managing to spin in place as the legs on one side were missing, but soon it began to rebuild itself. Malik growled as he closed the distance and finished it off with his remaining axe. Oil was leaking like blood onto the stone.
Cato was almost in shock as he watched the Khajiit throw the metal spider with ease. The spiders were of decent size, and made of metal, and yet the digitigrade cat threw them like they weighed nothing at all. Thing was, this strength was not unheard of among the cat people. There were stories of cats born in rare times of the year, born under moons that made the offspring more bestial. These cats were larger and stronger than the others. Cato had seen one before while stationed in Elsweyr, a young one that had been just as strong. That was a long time ago though, and that young Khajiit would be older now.
He paused for a brief second. It couldn't be?
The Dragonborn kicked one of the spiders with a growl, tearing Cato away from his thoughts.
"Why," he said with a groan, "why are there always spiders?"
Cato had to admit, while their group seemed to be a rag tag one, they got the job done. The Dragonborn's Shouts and the Khajiit alone were an army themselves. The Dragonborn turned. "Is everyone okay?" He paused. "Where's Cato?"
Right, invisible. "Here," he said, reappearing.
Ralof stared at him. "You hid?"
Cato shook his head. "More like using my abilities to my advantage."
The Stormcloak raised a brow. "You mean hiding."
"You say 'hiding', I say making it so I can attack without getting attacked."
"Imperials," Ralof huffed.
"You know, Nords," Cato said, sneering, "there are other ways of defeating an enemy other than charging into them head first and meeting them in open combat."
Ralof was about to respond but the Dragonborn stepped in between them, the glare on his face enough to silence their argument. Seeing he was successful in making them be silent he stepped leaned down in front of one of the downed spiders. "There are probably more of these." He glanced at Cato. "You know something about them? You said something about soul gems?"
Cato nodded. "I've been in Dwemer ruins before." He pointed at the spider. "I think that the soul gems make them move… makes them alive."
The Dragonborn stood. "So, destroy them…"
Cato smiled. "Exactly."
"Well," the Dragonborn said with a sigh, "at least one of us knows something about this place."
"We should keep an eye out for traps as well," Cato explained. "And I'm not saying things like trip wires. There are stones that when you step on them they sink down and activate a trap. They're hard to spot though." Cato thought back to Irkngthand and how Bryn had the nasty habit of setting off traps.
The Khajiit rolled his eyes. "Great." He looked at Cato. "You do realize this means you're going first again?"
And so it went as they delved further and further into Alftand. Along the way there were hints and clues that hinted at the fate of the research team that was stationed here. There had been a blizzard, they learned, and the research team had taken to the ruin for shelter from the storm, for it was warmer and less likely to fall on top of them. But as for what happened after there were no clues save for a few cryptic messages about people that were disappearing.
There were more spiders, and they dispatched them in similar fashion to before. They stayed in formation, working much as a team. There were other creatures too, guardians that Cato remembered Karliah called Spheres. These Spheres were much larger and formidable than the spiders, and they seemingly appeared out of nowhere, unlike the spiders who could be heard by their metal legs scratching against the floor.
Cato held up his hand. "Hold on," he said. The others stopped behind him, curious as to what he'd found. Cato knelt down, examining the stone in the floor in front of him. It was perfectly rectangular, with a green gem in the middle, and placed right before a small set of stairs going up onto the next floor, effectively blocking the stair. It felt a bit out of place in the bronze and stone room. "I think I found one of the pressure plates."
The Dragonborn sighed. "I was wondering when we'd run into one. Can you do anything about it?"
Cato honestly had no idea. When they'd been after Mercer they simply avoided the traps. He could see no way to avoid this one. "Maybe I can dislodge it somehow," he said, digging into the pouch where he kept his lock picks. Gently, Cato slipped his pick beneath the stone, attempting to find any sort of gears or machinery that he could block. There had to be at least a gear or something he could block to prevent whatever trap this stone activated from befalling the party.
At last he felt the tip brush against something hard and smooth. He heard a faint tink as he tapped it ever so slightly. It was metal, most likely the gear he was searching for. Working quickly he jammed his pick into the gear, hard. It was now stuck in the gear. Cato prayed silently to Nocturnal, Let this work, and work with me for once!
He nodded. "Should be safe."
Ralof crossed his arms. "'Should be' safe?"
Cato nodded again. "Yeah, but step lightly." For show, Cato went first. As his boot stepped on the stone it sunk, but only barely. Nothing activated as Cato stepped over it and onto the stairs. "See?"
The Dragonborn started, but Lydia stepped in front of him. Going first, she stepped on the stone, and then half jumped to the staircase. Shaking his head at his housecarl's diligence the Dragonborn followed. Malik was next, stepping lightly on the stone, but as his paw left the stone there was a resounding click.
Cato dived for the top of the stairs, rolling safely out of the way as a pole appeared in the middle of the stairs. It extended, revealing dual blades that began to spin as they descended the stairway. The Dragonborn's eyes were wide as he Shouted something. Time seemed to slow, or maybe the Dragonborn was moving faster, for Cato could not tell. One moment the Dragonborn and his housecarl were there, the next they were at the top of the stair with Cato. They landed hard, and a soft cry echoed from Lydia she collided with the stone knee first. Malik flew backwards back to the floor. The blades and pole retracted and disappeared once again.
All of them let out a sigh of relief. The Dragonborn stood, dusting himself off. Cato remained on the ground, his heart pounding in his chest. "You two all right?" the Dragonborn asked.
"I'm fine," Cato grunted indignantly.
"You call that safe?" Lydia growled lowly from the stone beside him.
"I got three of us up here didn't I?" Cato mumbled.
The Dragonborn shook his head and gazed down the stairs. "What about you two?" he called down the stairs. "Ralof? Malik?" There was a grumble of annoyance from Ralof, but not a sound from Malik. "Malik?" the Dragonborn called again, starting down the stairs and stopping half way. Grunting as he stood, Cato followed.
Malik was sitting, a look of terror on his face. He was holding his tail in front of him, staring at it like it was a foreign object. Ralof moved next to him and knelt down as he placed a hand on the Khajiit's shoulder. "Malik?" the Nord asked. "What's wrong?"
The Khajiit just continued to stare at his tail. "My tail," he gasped.
Cato looked at Revak and caught him raising a brow. Cato squinted as he tried to see what the Khajiit was on about. He felt the Dragonborn's hand tap him on the shoulder and then he drew Cato's attention to something on the floor. There on the ground was a tuft of black and orange fur.
The blades had cut the furred tip of the Khajiit's tail off.
Ralof shook Malik's shoulder. "Come on, friend," he said warmly, "it'll grow back right?" The Khajiit mumbled something about how much this was going to itch later, but nodded solemnly. The Nord and Khajiit stood together, and with Cato and Revak's help, made it up the stairs where Lydia was resting against a wall, rubbing her leg.
Malik ignored his tail (which he had been still holding), and knelt beside her. "It's nothing," she argued.
"Oh, really?" the big cat mused.
"Yes, Malik, really."
The Khajiit smiled devilishly. "Oh," he mocked, "so this doesn't hurt at all?"
Lydia looked confused. "What doesn't hurt-"she started, but ended in a yelp as Malik flicked her leg sharply.
"Thought so," he said concluded. Cato chuckled quietly.
Ralof knelt on her other side and placed a hand on her arm sweetly. He looked at the Dragonborn. "We should rest, if just for a little while."
Now that Ralof had said it, Cato realized how tired he was. They'd had a long day, the trek to the campsite, fighting the dwarven machines, and dodging traps had taken its toll. Cato looked around. He didn't like the idea of staying put for any length of time. But the Stormcloak was right. They needed rest. We have no idea what we'll face further in, spiders, spheres, centurions, Falmer… There could be anything.
He spotted a door. Leaving the rest, he made his way to it. Inside was a medium sized room, it was filled with scrap metal, but none of it was moving, a good thing in a Dwemer ruin. "Revak," he called back. With a last glance at his friends the Dragonborn joined Cato near the room.
"Might be a good place to hold up for a time."
The Dragonborn nodded. "Time is running, but I think we need a rest." With that he called the others, and soon the group took to their places. The Dragonborn called the first watch, much to his housecarl's dismay. Instead, she and Ralof took to one corner by themselves, sitting very closely and sharing whatever rations they had with each other. Malik leaned in the doorway and began to take inventory of his alchemists pouch.
Cato sighed and found a place along the opposite wall. He pulled his hood over his head, yet kept his mask down. There was no need to hide his identity here. He sat with his arms on his knees, watching the others casually.
Malik now finished searching his pouch made his way over to the Nords, a small pink vial in hand. He sat as Lydia took the vial, he muttered something to her to which she nodded and downed the concoction. A health potion then, Cato decided as Lydia's face eased somewhat after taking it. She nodded at the Khajiit and returned the now empty vial. The cat had a wide grin as he returned the glass to his pouch at his side.
The big cat was sitting cross legged in front of the two Nords, though rather awkwardly with his digitigrade legs. An interesting thing, that Khajiit. Cato had spent months in the Khajiit homeland, and only once had he ever met one of the more beastlike breeds. Of course, that was a different time, and, he grimaced at the thought, with the events of that night, that poor boy was probably dead. Or worse.
Cato shook the thoughts away and instead tried to rest. But his mind was a rush. Immediately he thought of the dream he had had before he last woke. Surely it was merely a dream. But it was so extreme, and so lifelike, to the point that he had awoken with a weapon drawn. And the feeling after! He cringed slightly. It was like he'd awoken from death itself.
He rubbed the back of his neck. No, he would not fall asleep, at least not just yet. Yet, even as he decided this he was growing more weary. His eyes felt heavy. He tried to shake sleep away, but it still lingered, growing heavier and heavier by the passing second. No, he told himself. I do not need to sleep. His head nodded even as he thought it. What was this? His heart began to beat faster, yet his eyes still became like lead. And soon they were closed, and his will became a distant memory…
Cato was once again surrounded by darkness, as nude as the day he was born… No, not again, he pleaded with himself.
"Listener, you belong to me…"
He was exposed, helpless, and he knew it was true. The voice was cold, so cold. He cringed, waiting for the pain.
"You will never escape my grasp, mortal. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. I am in everything around you; the unseen, the waiting darkness, the nothing, the Void."
Then another voice, "No, he is mine!"
Then… the room changed.
He looked up, this darkness was different. There was no monster waiting in the dark, no shadows moving around him, unseen. No, this time he welcomed the blackness. Once again he was able to see the faint outline of a door, a purple fog penetrating below it. Hesitant, he stepped towards it. As he began to move the new voice spoke again, a woman's, strong and melodic, "No, he is mine," it repeated.
Cato cringed, fearing for a brief moment that it was the Night Mother. But that was not the voice he served as Listener. This was a different entity. The fog began to rise, a purple cloud that began to change shape, forming into a woman. Her skin was bathed in a purple haze. He was clothed once more in his familiar armor made of shadows.
There before him stood Nocturnal. She reached out and offered her hand. Cato reached out to her. "You have been busy, Nightingale."
Cato could not find the words to respond. "The shadow of the Void threatens to close around you," she said, almost matter-of-factly. "But," she said, taking his hand, "we already have a deal, a contract." A shiver went down his spine at the last word. She let go of his hand, and Cato was shocked to find a familiar artifact in his palm.
There in his hands was the Skeleton Key that he had sworn to protect, the one he returned and brought back the luck that the Thieves Guild so sorely needed. He knew that the daedric artifact was not to be in the world. Its power was too great. He looked at Nocturnal questioningly. He moved to return it to her, but she shook her head. "No, use it well." Seeing that Cato did not understand she continued, "The world is in danger." She scowled. "The Beast will try to devour the world," she explained, as the growling behind the door grew louder. "This must not happen. Follow the Dragon of the North."
She disappeared, leaving Cato alone in the dark.
For a second time, Cato awoke with a start. His heart still beating wildly, he reached for his belt where he kept his lock picks.
He stared at the Skeleton Key wildly as he drew it from the pouch. How? He knew for a fact that he had returned it to the Twilight Sepulcher. He knew that there were only two others in the world who truly knew of its location, and neither Brynyolf nor Karliah would ever remove it from its chamber.
Nocturnal had given it to him. There was no other explanation. A familiar chill crept up his spine. He knew two things for certain, and he wasn't sure of which he thought more terrifying. One, that Nocturnal thought that the situation was dire enough to separate with her most cherished artifact. And two, the fact that he had the Skeleton Key in hand and that Nocturnal truly visited him meant that whatever the other thing that was in the dream had actually been there too.
Who was this Dragon of the North? He knew that that was a reference to Talos. Or was it? Maybe it meant the Dragonborn? They were in Skyrim after all, and didn't they say the Dragonborn possessed the souls of the dragons themselves? These were questions for another time.
He returned the Key to his pouch, making sure it was safely tucked within. Losing it would be a very bad thing, he knew. He stood, making sure not to make too much noise. Lydia and Ralof were still in their corner, Lydia resting her head on Ralof's shoulder, while Malik, the big oaf, was sprawled wide in the middle of the room, his tail twitching in some dream. The Dragonborn, he concluded, was still outside. Cato stepped gingerly over the Khajiit as he made his way out the door.
Cato found the Dragonborn across the hall, leaning against the stone wall and absent mindedly twirling something that was around his neck. Upon closer inspection Cato realized it was a simple iron key. The Nord's shield lay propped up against the stone beside him. The steel shield had taken a considerable amount of damage from the day's fighting. It had a few deep dents, as well as quite a few scorch marks. The Dragonborn gave Cato a slight nod as the Imperial leaned on the wall opposite. "The others still resting?" the Dragonborn asked quietly. Cato nodded. The Nord sighed. "We should begin moving again soon. I don't want to stay in one place for too long," he said, his voice weary.
Cato nodded in agreement. "Good idea. Should we wake them?"
The Dragonborn shook his head. "Not just yet, let them have their rest for as long as they can," he paused, "or at least as long as we can afford." They sat in silence for a moment.
"I can take over the watch, if you wish," Cato offered.
The Dragonborn offered a small smile as he tucked the key beneath his armor. "Thank you, but no." He breathed. "I wouldn't be able to sleep anyways." He glanced at Cato's expression and sighed. "Old ghosts," he said simply.
Cato nodded solemnly. He knew that feeling all too well recently. He wondered what might have caused such a young man to have 'old ghosts' already. It was surely something to ponder. Who was this Dragonborn? Where had he come from? He spoke of things that seemed like they were out of a book of legends. Cato was broken from his thoughts when he noticed the Dragonborn's gaze directed at him. "What's wrong?"
He continued to stare at Cato. "Something," he paused, "I feel like there's something nearby… something powerful."
Cato tried to ignore the impulse to put his hand over the pouch where he knew the Skeleton Key was hidden. Did this Nord have some sort of supernatural sense? "An enemy?"
"No," he admitted, "at least, I don't think so." He shrugged, and then was silent for a moment.
"So, what is your story? Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, it must be some tale."
Cato chuckled lightly. "You don't know the half of it."
The Nord smiled. "Then tell me."
Cato eyed the Dragonborn. There was something about this man. Cato wasn't sure what, but he felt he could trust him. Besides, what would the Dragonborn do? Turn him in to the Empire? He was a hunted man, but he had a feeling that the Dragonborn was too. "I was a Legionnaire, for quite a few years," Cato started, "a Legate, in fact. I am also currently wanted by the Empire for high treason."
The Dragonborn raised a brow. "Seriously?"
Cato smirked as with his left hand he removed his right gauntlet, revealing the Legion's mark on his arm. "My father was the Commander. True, I am a bastard, but even the Commander's bastard had a reputation to uphold, you see."
"Ah," the Dragonborn said, crossing his arms, "so it was Legate…?"
"Just Cato, I haven't used my first name in years," Cato answered. "I had a pretty good life," he said, thinking back. "I had a beautiful wife, newborn son, a good title, and land outside the Imperial City." Elaina's silken hair and how it shined in the sun and Darius' pink cheeks. He still remembered the first time he saw his son smile, toothless and perfect.
"How did you go from that life to the life of a thief and assassin?" the Dragonborn scoffed. "Seems like a pretty far turn."
Cato blew out a breath. "That's a way to put it." The Dragonborn gave him a look requesting more. "I was stationed in Elsweyr. We were supposed to 'maintain a presence' in case that the rumored rebellion there ever gained footing."
"A rebellion in Elsweyr?"
"It never got far. We arrested the leader before it got out of hand. Except the Thalmor agent assigned to us had his own meaning of justice and killed the poor sod without a court's decision." It was more than that, he knew. The Thalmor knew that Cato wouldn't stand for it. The Elf wanted to prove a point to Cato, so Cato shared the point of his sword.
The Nord shook his head. "So how did you end up a traitor?"
"I killed the Thalmor agent and fled the Empire. I went north to Skyrim and never looked back. I found a home with the Guild, who kept me away from the Thalmor's grip."
"What about your family?"
Cato was silent, and apparently that was all the answer that the Dragonborn needed. He would let the Dragonborn fill in the blanks. In truth his family had been burned alive inside their family home by the Dominion. Cato could still smell the smoke. He could still see the image of his wife's burnt corpse clinging to the small black bundle that was once his son protectively.
"I'm sorry," the Dragonborn said softly.
Cato nodded as he replaced his gauntlet. "So am I."
Ralof remembered how Revak had stopped time earlier in the day. He had moved unseen and appeared a good distance away from where he was just a second ago. Ralof wondered how long it felt for Revak. Did seconds turn to minutes? As Ralof brushed a stray strand of hair behind Lydia's ear, he couldn't help but wish he could slow time, even if just for a few minutes. True they were deep in the belly of a dwarven ruin full of mechanical monstrosities and deadly traps, but for right now they were safe, warm, and together. If only to be the Dragonborn for just a day…
Instead, he was greeted by Revak at the door, giving a low whistle to wake the sleeping group. Lydia's eyes popped open beside him. She gave him a quick glance and a soft smile before nudging the Khajiit in front of them with her boot. The Stormcloak chuckled as the big cat groaned and rolled over onto his side, his tail wrapping around him like a rope. Ralof glanced at the side wall, noticing the Imperial was no longer there. Revak rolled his eyes and made his way toward the slumbering Malik. Ralof heard a few hushed words, and then a strange voice seemed to insult the Khajiit, calling him a 'skeever brain'. Ralof raised his brow at Revak's smirk; a Shout then, and a peculiar one at that. Nonetheless, the behemoth Khajiit jumped up, muttering under his breath. "Who said that?" he grumbled, glaring at the Dragonborn, who merely shrugged.
Deciding it was time, Ralof stood as well. He offered a hand to Lydia, who took it with a slight blush as he kissed her hand lightly. He caught Revak's eye and just smiled. They followed Revak into the hall were the former Listener was already waiting. The Imperial gave Ralof a respectful nod, but said nothing. Revak glanced at each of them like he was making a roll call. "Same formation as before," he ordered.
The place had a different feel to it now. Before where they felt they were alone, save for the spiders and spheres, now it felt like they were being watched as they moved through the ancient stone halls.
"How could anyone live underground like this?" Malik said beside him. "It can't shake the fear that this will all fall down on top of us."
"Don't say it," Ralof said with a laugh, "with the luck of our Imperial leader it very well might happen."
Malik chuckled. "I give him credit where it is due. But perhaps you are correct. I-" Malik stopped. "Wait."
The party stopped. Ralof watched as Malik actually began sniffing the air. "I smell something."
Malik scrunched his nose in revulsion. "It smells like troll piss fermented in an Orc's sweaty wool sock."
The group stared at the Khajiit in confusion.
"It is a very distinct smell," he explained.
The thief shook his head. "Falmer," he cursed.
Sure enough just in the next room there was a group of the creatures. Malik's description of the smell was apt enough. They stank, outright. They were decent fighters as well. Smell and fighting skill aside they died like any other creature. The only one that gave them any difficulty was the spell caster, but the thief slipped into the shadows and surprised the monster from behind. They held their breaths once the fight was over. The beasts didn't smell any better dead than they had alive.
The Falmer had built a rugged little village. Ralof was impressed. How could creatures such as these have skills like these? They were blind! The found bodies there too, researches abducted by the Falmer for unknown malicious reasons. At the far end was a heavy stone door, green stonework.
Having seen enough, Revak sighed. "Let's move."
The room on the other side was breathtaking. They entered high on a balcony, with a staircase winding down on each side. The stone was white as snow. Below there was a sort of altar, glowing with brass and green gems. Green crystals were embedded in the cave ceiling and along the walls, lighting the way. There was a handful of Falmer, but they were dispatched easily in such small numbers. With light feet they ascended the white marble stairs. "What is this place?" Lydia said in awe.
Revak shook his head. "Some sort of cathedral I think."
Ralof's attention was drawn to three figures lying on the marble, in pools of blood mixed with metallic oil. "Revak!" he called. The Dragonborn joined him and let out a breath. The bodies were massacred. Their limbs were crushed, their flesh burned, and their heads smashed. "What could have done this?" But Ralof already knew the answer. Beside the bodies sat a pile of dwarven machinery in the shape of a giant man.
The thief whistled when he saw it. "A centurion!"
Revak knelt beside one of the bodies, a man in heavy Legion armor, and began patting the poor man down. "Nothing," he murmured. He knelt back, staring at the gruesome sight before him.
"What happened here?" he thought out loud.
"What do you mean?" Lydia asked, obviously not wanting to be in the presence of the corpses.
Revak shook his head. "What killed them?" He paused. "Actually, take that back," he glanced at the ruined machine, "what killed that?"
Malik kneeled beside Revak, inspecting the bodies. "Other than the obvious… there are burn marks."
"Perhaps steam from the machine?" the Imperial said, kicking the machine for emphasis.
Malik shook his head. "I've seen marks like this, made by destruction magic."
Ralof gave Malik a look. "Neither of these poor souls looks like they were skilled with magic."
Revak nodded. "Maybe there was a third person?" He stood and made his way to what must have been the altar. Ralof and Lydia followed their fellow Nord, leaving the Imperial and Khajiit to search the rest of the cathedral.
Revak stared at the strange pedestal that was the altar. He sighed as he removed his helmet and ran a gauntleted hand through his short hair. Ralof looked around him, and saw no other doors, no other entrances. It was a dead end, and there was no sign of an Elder Scroll in sight. We can't have made it all this way for nothing, Ralof thought hopefully.
"There has to be more," Revak said softly.
"Maybe there is another part of the ruin?" Lydia thought aloud.
Revak shook his head. "If it were to be anywhere in this ruin, this would be it."
Malik and the thief joined them, their search finding nothing. The Imperial lowered his black hood. "There has to be something of value here," he offered. "Why would there be a centurion otherwise? It was guarding something."
"Whatever it was," Lydia argued, "it's gone now."
"Maybe it has something to do with this, then?" Ralof said, staring at the altar that Revak was leaning on. Ralof found it hard to believe that a huge place like this had no secrets besides rotten smelling Falmer and ancient machines. Revak pounded the altar with frustration, throwing their group into silence. At least until the Imperial jumped like he'd been branded. Everyone stared at him curiously.
Ignoring their glares the Imperial reached into a pouch at his side, his smile wide as he removed what looked like a worn lock pick. Immediately Revak stood straight, his brow furrowed. "By the Divines!" he cursed. "Where did you get that from?"
Ralof was confused. The look on his friends face was that of shock, but the Imperial actually looked cocky holding his little trinket. He looked closer. It looked like a normal lock pick, maybe a bit fancy, but old and worn.
"It was a gift," the thief explained, closing his hand around the pick.
Revak scowled. "That's the Skeleton Key!" he yelled. "That's what I felt earlier! When did you get that? Because by Oblivion you didn't have it when we got here!"
Lydia stepped forward. "The Skeleton Key? What is that?"
"The Skeleton Key," he explained with a hint of malice, "is a daedric artifact; Nocturnal's in fact." He glared at the thief. "You're a Nightingale," he said simply.
"Yes?" the thief said slowly. "You already knew that, Dragonborn."
Revak walked around the pedestal and stood directly in front of the Nightingale. "Serving a daedra…" he trailed. "That thing," he nearly spat, "isn't supposed to in the world!"
The Imperial shook his head. "How do you know? It can help us!" he argued. "If there is another passage to get to the Elder Scroll this," he displayed the pick, "can get us to it! I have to have been given it for a reason." He gestured at the room in general. "And this has to be it!"
Malik couldn't keep his eyes off the daedric artifact. "What does it do, exactly?"
Cato sighed. "It opens doorways."
Revak scowled. "Make it sound as innocent as you like." He turned to Malik. "It opens any doorway. Even ways without locks or even doors. Limited only by your own will."
The Khajiit's eyes went wide. "Any lock?" Cato nodded. "I wish I had that at that brothel in Rimmen," he murmured. "So that is how you are the Thieve's Guildmaster?
Cato gave Malik a curious look, but shook free of it. "No, not at all." He glared at Revak. "I've used it before, Dragonborn, and I returned it then."
"How did you get it anyway if you supposedly returned it?"
"Wait," Ralof interjected, his hands up, "what are you talking about?"
Revak sighed. "Do you know how the daedric artifacts get into the mortal world?"
"No," Ralof admitted, "I have never had much experience with them."
"You need to do them a service. You need to do something to gain their favor, and then they award you with their foul trinkets."
Cato huffed. "You know quite a bit about them for someone who seems to hate them." He sighed.
"I returned it once, for the Guild. Nocturnal isn't evil. Just a good business woman," he smirked, "if anything."
"You sold your soul for luck," the Nord said, it wasn't a question.
"I signed a contract with it," Cato admitted, "yes."
Ralof stared at the Imperial. How could someone sell their soul to a daedra for something as fickle as luck? "Why?" he asked.
Cato turned to him. "Because some things are bigger than just one soul."
Lydia laughed darkly. "'A thief with honor'."
Ignoring her, Cato turned back to the Dragonborn. "I'm a Nightingale, it's my job to see the Key returned to her, but, in the meantime, why not put it to use helping something bigger than any one of us? Do we really have the time to argue this?" He paused, letting his point sink in.
The Dragonborn stared at him for a moment, and then sighed. "Use it," he said softly. "We need the Elder Scroll, if it's here."
The thief smirked. "We do have luck on our side, you know," he said, twirling the Key in his
The Dragonborn huffed and shook his head. "I'd rather have an Elder Scroll."
So you know that thing where I post stuff and you read it?
Yeah, forgot about that.
I've been working more than ever, and then writer's block, failing NaNo like a boss.
I've got good stuff still, and if you're still reading, good on you.
I've broken this chapter into three now, not just two. Once this chapter broke the 10,000 word mark, I realized I still had another 10,000 to go. So three it shall be.
"Honor from death, is a myth. Invented by the war torn to make sense of the horrific. If we die, it will be so that others may live. Truly honorable death, the only honorable death, is one that enables life."
-Rae Carson, The Girl of Fire and Thrones
Malik was still debating on the exact color of Revak's face when he saw the thief's newest trinket. It was a delicate mix of puce, yet a hint of burgundy. It was truly difficult to tell exactly by the light in the ruin. Despite the odd color of his countenance, the Dragonborn deemed that they would indeed use the thief's artifact due to their dire situation. It was a wise move, if a bit hasty if Malik had his say in it. He was always a bit wary of the daedra, but maybe it was his experience with said thief that clouded his judgment.
Revak sighed, and stepped away, his arms crossed and a scowl etched on his face. Strangely, Malik thought, the look suited his friend. He truly looked imposing. The Dragonborn's obvious distaste in the daedra and their artifacts was new territory for Malik. He had never heard the Nord mention the daedra or anything like it before, but obviously he felt strongly about them. Malik kept his distance as the Imperial took one last pause to look at the Dragonborn before closing his eyes in concentration and raising the Skeleton Key before him. Malik was intrigued. "How, exactly," he started, breaking the thief's focus and making him glare at Malik in distaste, "does a lock pick work without a lock to pick?"
Cato shot the Khajiit a glare. He closed his eyes once more and was silent.
Ralof nudged Malik with his elbow. "This should be interesting," he said expectantly.
The Imperial expertly ignored them and continued concentrating. Soon a tangible darkness began rising from the ground at the thief's feet, encircling him like a black fog. The Key was glowing black, and the room felt much colder. Though Malik welcomed the chill from the humidity of the dwarven construct, this chill was different; it felt like his very soul was put on ice. "There is a door," he said, eyes still closed, "below us."
"How-?" Lydia started.
"Step away from the pedestal," Cato ordered, interrupting the housecarl. Immediately the group stepped back, as the ground began to shake. Whatever the Key did, it was working. The ground parted before them, and soon individual pieces were falling perfectly into line and forming a winding stair down, down into the ground below them.
With one final shift they stopped, leaving a cloud of dust floating into the air. The mist faded away, leaving the group staring at the stair now visible in front of them. Ralof was clearing the air in front of him. "That was interesting," Malik concluded.
Cato smirked slyly as he started to pocket the Key once more, but Revak closed in, towering over the Imperial, grim and imposing. "I think not," he said, his jaw tense. "I think I will be holding on to that for now."
The thief scowled. "Honestly," he argued, not giving the Dragonborn an inch, "where do you think I would go with it?"
"Honestly?" Revak said, leaning forward so that blue met green, his face calm and his voice calculated. "Nii rinik gut, mey se aan joor."
His scowl deepening, Cato handed the key over to the Dragonborn without another word. Malik coughed awkwardly, trying to clear the air in both his lungs and the room. "Pressing forward, then?" he offered.
The Dragonborn pocketed the artifact, not without giving it a good glare, and turned away from the thief. "Yes," he nearly grunted. He motioned the group to move ahead, down the stairs.
Malik took the chance to get close to Revak. "What did that mean?" he said quietly to the Dragonborn.
"'Not very far'," he stated simply.
Seeing the look on the Dragonborn's face, Malik believed it.
Ralof was sure that Revak was very ready to cause the Imperial thief bodily harm. But what really interested him were the words the Dragonborn spoke. Never before had he heard the Dragonborn speak in that tongue, which was obviously the language of the dragons. He had heard him Shout, but mostly the words were drowned out by their effect. This time he spoke clearly, his voice calm, and the words more menacing so.
They made their way down the stairs single file, as Cato unlocked the wooden door with his regular, not enchanted, lock picks. It seemed silly of the dwarves, Ralof thought, that they'd lock the door found by first finding the hidden staircase.
When the door opened, and they all walked through, he realized why the extra precaution was taken.
They found themselves on a high pavilion made of white stone. His breath was stolen away as he took in the sights in front of him. The ruin opened up into a complete other world. Crystals and glowing mushrooms, glowing in greens and blues, lit the huge cavern before them. It seemed to go on for miles. There were buildings, huge constructs towering above, and small pathways made of stone below. The sound of moving water echoed in the place. It was like an entire city was built underground. He gazed at the glowing orb that towered high above the largest building in the distance. It hung like a sun buried beneath the earth.
The others, too, look awestruck at the magnificence of the cavern. Lydia was at his side, trying to take in everything at once. Ralof laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, but neither of them could take their eyes off the beauty that surrounded them. "Nine," he breathed, "what is this place?"
"It's beautiful," Lydia said softly.
Cato shook his head, obviously still not vocal after the incident about the Key that had got them here.
Malik turned to Revak. "Do you have any idea what this place is?"
"I-"the Dragonborn started, "I have no idea. It's like nothing I've ever seen." He leaned forward on the rail that separated them from the underground world before them. His face steeled once more. "But if an Elder Scroll is anywhere," he said, "it would be here."
Ralof nodded, pulling Lydia closer. "Agreed."
They descended down to the lower level. The roaring of a waterfall could be heard in the distance. Yellow brick paths twisted, leading to each of the buildings. The place was quiet, but not eerily so. It was peaceful. The air, unlike the rest of Alftand, was sweet, and smelled of water and an odd sweetness. Revak took the head of the party now, leading them down the winding stone paths that lead toward the largest building that rested beneath the large glowing globe that hung like an artificial sun above their heads. Lydia followed behind him, and Ralof was at her side and Malik behind them. The thief, it seemed, did not wish to be bothered and hung behind the group, silent as the grave. "Gods," Ralof commented, "it's like another world down here."
"Drem," Revak said from ahead of them, "it's like a dream."
"'Drem'," Lydia repeated slowly, "what does that mean?"
"How do you say beautiful?" Ralof asked.
"Ah," Ralof said, glancing at Lydia and catching her eyes, "brit."
Ralof caught her cheeks turn red briefly before she turned to Revak. "Do you have any idea where the Scroll is?"
"When in doubt," he said with mild confidence, "look in the biggest building with the most to offer."
Ralof looked up at the giant sun like sphere that was growing ever closer as they walked. "Ah," he concluded.
He heard Malik chuckle behind them. "I do believe our fearless Dragonborn just admitted that he is completely guessing."
"Not completely," came a grunted response from their fearless leader.
As they reached the outer walls of the structure beneath the globe it became apparent to Ralof that it was much, much bigger than he had thought. The walls were built like a castle. High outer walls towered above; with a large arched entrance all carved in the same white marble like stone. There was what looked like watch stations on the walls. Buildings rested either along said walls or within them. One tower rose almost level with the huge orange-yellow sphere that Ralof could still not identify. One thing was obvious to him though, something or someone had lived here, someone or something with a lot of power.
Just as he was scanning the walls he thought he saw something move atop them. Ralof shook his head, it wasn't exactly the brightest place and his eyes were probably playing tricks on him. Revak lead them forward, ignoring the beautiful scenery with a professional demeanor. He just wants to get the Elder Scroll and get the Oblivion out of here, Ralof concluded. His loss, this place was surely something to see. He glanced to the side as Malik left the road briefly, inquiring after a strange red plant.
But he couldn't help but feel like they were being watched. He looked back at the walls again, thinking he saw another shadow. He shook his head, seeing things. If there was something there they would have been attacked by now. Nothing they had encountered besides the Falmer had shown any signs of intelligence, and, even then, the Falmer were crude and still charged recklessly and without self-preservation. Surely, yes, if there was something there it wasn't waiting for their party to strike first.
He felt a shadow behind him; Cato had finally decided to catch up. "You see it too?" the Imperial said, whispering so low that only Ralof could hear.
"It's nothing, just that sphere playing shadow games with our eyes," Ralof half whispered back.
Cato shrugged beside him and fell back once more as Malik rejoined them, looking at the red plant like it was a gift from the Divines themselves.
"A Nirnroot!" the excited Khajiit explained. "But it's red."
Finally, they found themselves at the arch leading into the structure. Ralof gaped at the sheer height and size of, well, everything. The archway itself and the walls were at least a hundred feet high; and the sphere! It loomed above them like an eye, always watching. Its size made it impossible to see the cave's crystal embedded ceiling.
And once again, Ralof was seeing shadows. But this time, he was not alone. Malik looked quickly to his left. "Did anyone else see something?"
"No," Lydia answered, but she too was now glancing around, wary.
Revak was silent as a stone, but even he was looking from side to side. His hand went to the blade at his hip. "Be ready," he said lowly, "I don't think we're alone."
They stood in silence for a moment on edge before moving forward into a large courtyard. The ground beneath them was no longer the cave floor, but once again the odd white marble-like stone. They were in the middle of the structure now, in between three buildings and what seemed like the entrance to the large tower. Revak paused, debating on which building to enter first. He stepped forward toward the large tower, obviously choosing it first, when he stopped in his tracks. And Ralof was shocked to see why.
The doors of the tower opened revealing a figure in the doorway. Out walked an Orc. It was wearing rags and looked haggard and underfed. At its side rested an old looking axe. The Orsimer did not say anything. Its skin was a sickly pale green. Its eyes were dark and hollow.
Revak took one step forward. "Hello?" he called out.
And the Orc cried out and charged them. At one instant, Revak's blade was at his side, and in the next instant the Orc was on the ground, his belly opened and his eyes blank.
In that moment, all of Oblivion fell upon them as Falmer descended upon them from all angles, darting from hidden alleys and pouring out from the buildings. But it was not Falmer alone that charged them. Men and Mer were with them, dressed in rags and wielding the crude Falmer weapons. Their throaty cries were mad and harried. Most of them appeared from the tower, rushing them like predators smelling blood. It was a trap.
They quickly formed a rough fighting formation. Ralof drew and gripped his axe with white knuckles, Malik's tail flickered in anticipation, Cato was suddenly nowhere to be seen, and Lydia's shield was up and ready to take the brunt of the attack. But Revak stepped forward, his hand out and pushing Lydia aside in a firm but gentle gesture.
And he Shouted.
Ralof could not hear the words, but a gout of flame burst forth from the man like dragon's breath. The Falmer were burned alive. Their screeches echoed in the courtyard as they were toasted in their crude armor. And yet there were still more coming, bursting forth from the buildings around them.
And then the battle fell to as the rest of the enemies collided with their party.
The world became a made array of limbs, blood, and bodies. Ralof's axe swung with practiced precision, cleaving heads and lopping off limbs. Ralof cursed as he cut a Falmer nearly in half, only to have it replaced by a mad Nord wielding a rusted axe. His heart sank as he watched his fellow Nord fall to his blade, only to curse again as the Nord too was replaced by another enemy.
Every now and then he was able to assess the situation. Their party had been separated in the horde that had descended upon them. Lydia and Revak were still at each other's sides, back to back, Malik was separated from the rest, but was as valuable as ten men, his axes swinging with a wild fury and when his axe buried too deeply into a foe he was not too civil to neglect the use of tooth and claw. Ralof cursed, not knowing where Cato was lurking, until Ralof felt a weight fall at his feet. A crazed Dunmer had tried to flank him, only to fall with a dagger in his back and a shadow dart away.
Just as an Imperial fell to his blade, a large Falmer wearing crude heavy armor approached him with a large two handed axe. With a war cry in his throat, Ralof charged him. "SKYRIM!" he cried as he swung his blade, cursing to himself as the Falmer met him move for move. It blocked, and spun its weapon to the side, Ralof found his blade torn from his hands. He drew the dirk from his side as the Falmer charged him once more. Ralof darted to his left. The Falmer missed, staggering as the blind creature once again searched for its foe. Ralof charged at his enemy's turned back, and buried his short sword through the back of its neck. The creature made a gurgling sound as it slowly collapsed to its knees, its black life's blood pooling like a river before it. Drenched in blood, Ralof picked up his axe where it had fallen and fell to again.
A few more enemies down, and another chance to take in the battle. Malik had rejoined Lydia and Revak, a deadly triangle. Ralof's arms were growing heavy with every swing. He tried to fight his way back to the rest of the group. Soon Revak's voice could be heard over the din, "OUTSIDE THE WALLS!"
Of course, they were in a fatal funnel, as long as they were surrounded like this they were at a disadvantage. Revak planned to change the playing field.
If only there were less Falmer in their way.
Ralof cursed. Talos, he prayed. He buried his axe in a Breton's head, and, kicking the body aside, started to backtrack to the others. Cato materialized at his side, a black blade in one hand and a fire spell prepped in the other, but the Imperial's own crimson blood leaked through a tear in the side of his black armor. "I'm with you!" he called to Ralof, his voice strained. "We need to move, now!" A Falmer charged Cato, with a curse Cato changed spells, a red and black sphere of energy hit the Falmer, who, when it made contact with its chest, stopped in its tracks, turned, and then started to engage its own kind. Cato gave Ralof a nod before disappearing once again, fading like a mist of shadow.
"I know!" Ralof called back. He prepared to swing at a creature that was rushing him, only to have Cato's Falmer take it from behind. Ralof barked a laugh. "Can you do that to all of them?"
"Just one!" came the disembodied response from somewhere to Ralof's left. Slowly, they made their way to the others, forming a loose circle. It was only Falmer now, but they were still surrounded. Ralof tried to make a head count; there were twenty of them at least.
"Lydia!" Ralof cried, seeing her, limping, alongside Revak. Her beautiful brow was drenched in sweat and blood, but otherwise she seemed fine; at least not too much of it seemed to be hers. Ralof took his place at her side, opposite of Revak. At his left stood Cato, now visibile, with his Falmer slave, and, on Revak's right, Malik stood with blood dripping from his fur like he was sweating blood.
"Wait for them to charge first," Revak ordered, his shield was forward, and his thin curved blade was ready above it. The Falmer edged closer still, obviously not as mindless as their crazed counterparts had been.
But the Falmer's charge would never come. Instead, a cry echoed through the cave. The Falmer hesitated, stepping back. The cry echoed again. It was long and loud, the ground rumbled with its bass, a mournful and terrifying cry. His grip on his axe tightened. Ralof looked to Lydia. "What is that?" he said, his voice stuttering. Then he saw her face. All color was gone, her eyes wide in fear. "Lydia?"
Again, the cry sounded, Ralof glanced at Revak, who, like Lydia, was frozen. Ralof glanced at Cato and Malik, both obviously had no idea what it was either. Malik's tail was down and curled beneath him. "Revak," Ralof shouted over the sound of the chattering and screeching Falmer, "please tell me you know what that is!?"
The Dragonborn steeled his face as the cry echoed once more, his brow furrowed beneath his horned helm. "A dragon," he said simply, then louder, "DRAGON! SCATTER!"
Sure enough with the next cry a shadow could be seen gliding above them. The great dragon circled above. It was massive, every beat of its wings made the air shift. Malik growled. "That's a big lizard."
Ralof couldn't move, couldn't think. He felt a hand take him away from his fears, Revak was at his side. Revak was the Dragonborn. Revak had killed dragons before, and he'd help them do it now.
The beast circled once more before landing. The ground shook when it touched the ground it did so with another ear wrenching roar.
Both Nords were thrown backwards by the force of the landing. Pain crawled up Ralof's back as he hit the hard stone floor. His axe skittered beside him.
And now Ralof could see what the dragon truly looked like.
If possible it looked much bigger now that it had landed. It towered over them, its black eyes were shadowed by ivory white horns, its scales a motley mix of reds, blacks, whites, and brown. Its leathery wings were beige, and its claws were thicker than a hundred year old tree. Its tail was like a whip, but tipped with a mace like growth that could pound even the hardiest of warriors to nothing more than mulch. Even Ralof, though, could tell there was something strange about this dragon. It looked old, ancient. The scales were faded, its wings torn.
Ralof didn't even want to think about its jaws.
A voice jarred him from his fear induced coma, "Come on!" Revak cried as he grabbed Ralof's arm and pulled him to his feet. Ralof grabbed his axe from beside him as he stood. Only now did he notice Lydia at his other side, her shield up and a defiant look in her eye. The sounds of fighting began behind them as the Falmer attacked. Malik and Cato danced among the creatures, meeting them metal to metal and claw to claw.
Revak stood tall and lowered his shield to his side as he took in a deep breath. This time Ralof was close enough to hear the words. "YOL TOR SHUL!" the Dragonborn Shouted. Flame erupted from the Shout, just falling short of the dragon.
The beast paused, as if it was going to speak, but instead it snapped forward with its jaws. The three jumped back, barely missing the jagged teeth. Revak took the opportunity to strike at the dragon, his sword it the scales on the dragon's head with a keening note, but the dragon merely drew its head back in anger, a frustrated growl emitted from its maw.
It snapped forward again, Ralof ducked as the dragon's head shot above him. When the dragon withdrew Ralof swung his axe with a mighty roar of his own, successfully sinking his blade into the creature's snout. It screeched in protest, hopping back and tearing Ralof's weapon from his hands.
The beast swept his claws at Revak, whose shield rose in time but was still flung backwards with the sheer force of the blow. Ralof breathed a sigh of relief as Revak returned to his feet, throwing the now ruined shield aside and drawing a short sword from his hip.
In his distraction, Ralof never saw the claws swipe at him. He found himself flying, and landing, hard, a distance away. The world popped out of existence for the briefest of seconds as he landed, seeing stars. His ears were ringing from the impact. With a groan, he pulled himself to his side, his body feeling like he'd been trampled by a mammoth. His vision was shaking, whether from the force of impact or from the world actually shaking he wasn't sure. But all of a sudden the world felt like it was a dream.
From several feet away he watched helplessly as Cato fell, clutching his chest, his face as pale as snow, an arrow lodged in his arm, as Malik ripped the head off a Falmer with his bare hands, his fur so drenched in Falmer blood it looked painted black, his axes still buried in the dead piled at his feet. He saw Revak and Lydia in the distance still standing against the dragon, constantly dodging, looking for opportunities but finding none. Ralof stood, his legs stumbling to find balance as he made his way back into the fight, drawing his short sword once more. The dragon reared its head in an attempt to catch the Dragonborn in its jaws, as Lydia, seeing this, moved forward.
Ralof knew she would defend the life of her Thane with her life.
And Ralof knew that he would defend her life with his own.
He tackled Lydia to the ground, only to see the ground disappear from below him. He heard the crunch of his own bones before he felt the pain drown out his own scream.
He heard the impact of his body crashing to the ground in a crumpled heap.
He felt cold.
The pain was gone.
He knew what awaited him.
Cato was now standing on will alone.
He looked before him, at an armored Falmer, chittering away at him, its weapon high and about to strike. Unable to lift his sword, Cato threw his left hand up; a fire spell already prepped, and launched a stream of flame at the creature. The beast fell stiffly and the air smelt of burnt flesh.
He was losing blood, and fast. A chill wrapped around him like a shroud. Daedric armor or not, Nightingale armor was not meant to take direct and powerful blows. The wound in his side were the Orc's ax had pierced him was bleeding profusely, sapping his strength. His limbs were growing number by the second. An arrow pierced his arm, but he didn't notice, noticing it only when he saw the shaft of the arrow in his forearm, poison now coursing through his veins.
There were only two Falmer left.
He fell to his knee. The Nords were locked in battle with the dragon behind him, he could hear them fighting. He watched the Khajiit fighting, weapon whirling in a blood fury. He threw his remaining axe at one who fell with it in its face, then, grabbed the other Falmer and pulled on its head with such force that the head was torn from the body, its shredded neck spewing blood in a wide arc as the body fell to the ground.
The Khajiit roared then, long and loud. Bestial.
He felt the shroud tightening around him. Darkness was beginning to cloud his vision.
A woman's laughter filled his ear, menacing and dark. "My Listener..."
Cato was barely conscious. With bloody paws, Malik poured a powerful health potion down the Imperial's throat. He coughed as he swallowed, wincing from the pain. Soon the wound began to heal itself.
The former Legate would live.
But for Ralof, who'd landed like a broken toy…
Malik knew as soon as he heard the bones break, the blood fly… he knew that Ralof would not.
And as soon as he saw Lydia charge… he knew the dragon wouldn't either.
Lydia could not recall what happened after she saw Ralof lifted into the air. She would not be able to recall the sound of his bones breaking as the dragon took him into its jaws, how his blood had splattered once he hit the cold ground, or how his leg had landed a few feet away from his body.
Because, after that, she would not have been able to tell you her own name.
The dragon did not speak. It did not return the Shout. Was it mad? How long had it been in this place?
Whatever the case, Revak did not pity the beast when Lydia, fueled by rage and grief, slayed the monster. Seeing her love tossed aside like a used toy broke something in her. She had charged, despite Revak's attempts to call her back. Even the dragon seemed off put by her reckless fury released through her grief. She had dropped her sword and shield, instead taking her lover's axe and charging headfirst at the beast. The monster swiped at her with his claws, but she dove, sliding beneath its claws and then resumed her charge. The beast bared blooded teeth that threatened to end her like Ralof, but she jumped to the side.
And jumped onto the dragon's head.
The dragon twisted its head in confusion, trying to throw its unwelcome passenger, but Lydia held on. Using its horns to stabilize herself, she drove the axe into its skull again and again. Each time the axe hit home Lydia screamed. There was no war cry, no curse, just a primal call of grief and fury. Black blood sputtered high, and the creature was slowing. Blood was falling to the ground like rain.
The monster screamed in death, but then finally had collapsed and moved no more.
When it was dead, there was silence. Revak was frozen in place. He knew, Divines, he knew that there would be casualties. He'd been in battle before, he'd led legions, but this, this never became easier. He stood there, watching as Lydia tore herself away from the dead dragon to where Ralof lay, broken. Only now did Revak notice Cato lying not far from where the Stormcloak landed, less broken, but still injured. Malik knelt beside the Imperial, removing an arrow from the thief's arm.
Glowing energy began dispersing from the dragon's corpse, and Revak took it with remorse, not eager to benefit from this battle. He learned nothing from the dragon's soul, not even a name.
The elder dragon had become nothing but a beast, and no higher knowledge remained.
He removed his helmet as he made his way to the others. Lydia was at Ralof's side, holding his hand. The Nord was still alive then. Malik now stood over the two; his grim face alone told Revak that there was no hope for his friend. His heart heavy, he knelt beside Lydia, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. She was shaking.
"It's done then," Ralof said his voice rough and coated in pain. His leg was gone, just below the knee, and his chainmail had been ripped to shreds, blood seeping through the remaining links. He would not have much time.
Revak nodded solemly. "It's done, brother."
"Good," Ralof said, a hint of a small smile on his face faded as spasms of pain wracked him.
"Malik," Revak said softly.
The Khajiit nodded slowly, taking a dark red vial from his belt as he knelt beside his friend.
Gingerly, he lifted Ralof's head and poured the potion. Revak hoped that the potion would make it easier.
Lydia laid her other hand gently on Ralof's cheek. "Gods," she whispered. Tears were flowing now.
She removed her hand and reached beneath her armor, pulling out a familiar amulet.
Ralof's eyes widened slightly at the sight of it. "You?" was all he could say.
"Yes," she said, squeezing his hand. She glanced at Revak. "Could you?" she asked him.
He hesitated. "Of course." Revak raised his hand over the two. "Do you, Ralof of Riverwood, take this woman, Lydia of Whiterun, to be your wife?"
"Yes," Ralof gasped, tears welling in his eyes.
"Lydia, do you take Ralof to be your husband?"
"Of course," she said, her eyes never leaving Ralof's.
"Blessings of the Nine upon both of you," Revak whispered as he lowered his hand. May you find each other in Shor's hall, and live out the rest of eternity in feast and happiness, he continued in his thoughts. Tsun will grant you passage, Ralof, of that I have no doubt. "Let it be known."
Ralof smiled softly at Revak. "Thank you," he croaked, and he reached out to take Revak's hand.
And as soon as it their hands touched, Revak's world went black.
Slowly, sensation returned to him. He blinked his eyes open and found himself standing in a forest. Dozens of trees sheltered an ancient path made of white stone. A small mist was gathered at the ground. It was quiet. There was no wind or animals. The silence, while normally would have been upsetting, was peaceful. The world was still. Revak looked up at the sky, finding not the sun, but the stars shining brightly above him.
His mind was not clear. Every time he tried to hold a thought it slipped away, like it was only a memory to begin with. His vision was hazed, lines blurred.
He felt strange. Lighter. He made his way down the path. Soon he headed towards the faint sound of the chanting. The voices were deep and strong, but still far away. He felt the song more so than he heard it. The Song of Sovngarde, he told himself. He had heard it before. But never had it made him feel in such a way. Perhaps that was because he never had died. When his time came the gods simply allowed him to join them. The mortals considered him dead when in truth he was still alive, just apotheosized. He could hear the words now, and almost instantly he recognized the Language of the Dragons.
Huzrah nu, kul do od, wah aan bok lingrah vod,
aahrk fin tey, boziik fun, do fin gein!
Wo lost fran wah ney dov, ahrk fin reyliik do jul,
Voth aan suleyk wah ronit faal krein!
Revak thought over the words in his head. He recognized parts of the language, it sounded like a prayer. He continued towards the sound, which meant he was to continue down the path. The music became louder as he walked. Verse after verse the honored dead were singing. If only he could catch every word to translate.
He saw a figure in the distance. He started to move faster, a light jog. The music actually seemed to be coming from him too, he was not singing, but as he got closer the singing got much louder. The figure turned to him, the familiar blue uniform making Revak's heart jump a beat. Ralof stood before him, fully healed, the grime of battle long gone. Even his skin was glowing slightly with a soft blue glow. His smile was radiant. "Ralof?" he said, hardly believing it.
His friend looked at him curiously, studying him. "Who are you?" he asked. "Do you know where we are? I think I am lost."
Revak paused. How could Ralof not recognize him? Revak looked at his hands, to find he was not wearing his steel Nordic gauntlets, instead he saw gold, he looked down and it was confirmed. He was wearing his Imperial Dragon armor. He lifted his hand to his brow. He looked up at Ralof, who was still awaiting an answer. "Talos," Revak said, unsure. Revak jumped a little at the sound of his voice. It was deeper, musical. It had been a long time since he had heard his real voice. Had he gotten so used to his newfound mortal life? What if he was forgetting his place as a Divine? No, he was Talos, and he would always be so.
Ralof looked at him incredulously. Revak straightened. "I am Talos Stormcrown, also known as Tiber Septim, Dragonborn, Dragon of the North, also known as the Ninth Divine."
Ralof's eyes went wide, taking in Revak's appearance. Immediately, he fell to one knee, his head bowed in reverence. "Mighty Talos," he said, "it is an honor."
Revak nodded solemly. "Your actions in life have granted you a place in Sovngarde," he explained sadly. He offered Ralof his arm. Nervously, the former Stormcloak took it. "The honored dead bow to no one," Revak said as he helped Ralof to his feet. He gave him a soft smile. "Even a Divine."
Ralof scratched his head. "Sovngarde?" he almost gasped. "Am… am I dead?" He shook his head. "I-I remember now. The cave, we were looking for an Elder Scroll," he trailed.
Revak dipped his head. "Yes," he admitted, "I'm sorry."
Ralof rubbed his neck, obviously attempting to come to terms with his own recent death. "Then,"
he started, "it wasn't a dream? The dragon? When it…" He winced.
"Yes, it's true."
He shook his head. "It all happened," he said, as if trying to convince himself.
The Ninth Divine placed a hand on Ralof's shoulder. "You have honor," he said, "brother Nord."
Revak was surprised when Ralof let out a bark of a laugh. "I'm married!" He shook his head grimly.
"Hod always said I'd find love before I died, to think, he was a little too right." Remembering he was in the presence of a Divine Ralof dipped his head in respect. "We fight for you, you know," he said, straightening. "We fight in your name."
Ralof laughed to himself. "I guess I'm a bit past that, huh?" He shook his head again. "What will happen to them?" he asked. "To my friends? The Dragonborn…" He paused, his eyes sad, "Lydia…"
"One day," Revak said starting down the path, "they will join you in Shor's Hall."
Ralof followed. "I will wait," he said. "As long as it takes, I will wait for her."
Revak nodded. "Come with me then."
"Where are we going?"
"You must join the feast," Revak explained as they continued down the path, side by side. "There
is a place waiting for you at Shor's Hall. I will take you there."
"Do you escort everyone?"
Revak searched his mind. In truth he never had done it before. "You are a special case," he lied. "You fought alongside the last Dragonborn. Your acts of valor precede you."
"I don't know what to say my lord Talos," Ralof said in awe, "thank you. It is an honor."
They walked in silence for a time. Revak lead them, his golden armor glowing in the mist. Revak was curious. The fog was growing thicker the further they walked. How far were they from the Hall of Heroes? The chanting was growing louder with each step, so he was sure they were going in the right direction, despite the fog he was sure of it. Another verse began.
Ahrk fin Kel lost prodah, do ved viing ko fin krah, tol fod zeymah win kein meyz fundein!
Alduin, feyn do jun, kruziik vokun staadnau, voth aan bahlok wah diivon fin lein!
Once again, he was only able to catch a few words. But one word, a name, was loudest of all.
Revak stopped. This isn't a song of welcoming, he realized. It's a warning. Alduin was devouring souls in Sovngarde. They were in Sovngarde. Damn! he thought. What happens if he finds me?
I'm not dead! He could only imagine the complications.
Ralof looked at him, obviously wondering why they had stopped. "What is wrong, mighty Talos?"
Revak held up his hand to silence his friend. The fog was much thicker now that it had been a moment ago. "Does the fog look different to you?" Ralof shook his head.
Just as he did the ground shook. Both of them staggered. Revak could no longer see through the fog, but he heard a deep breathing nearby, a low growl. "What was that?" Ralof said, looking to the man-god for answers.
Revak was silent as he listened to the world around him. The low growl turned into a light chuckle as a voice spoke. The voice was deep and dark. It sent a chill up Revak's spine. "Grik faas hiu lost," it said, its voice mocking.
Revak reached for his blade at his side, only to realize that he had none. He searched his mind for the translation. "Zu faas niid gein," he responded, defiant.
"Vahzah? Hin kah fen kos bonaar, Dovahkiin," it continued with a growl. Revak was silent. "Hin sille fen nahkip suleyki. Nust wo ni qiilaan fen kos duaan, orin hin."
Revak scowled. "Zu wo ni qiilaan niid gein! Zu'u Talos! Faal Dovah do brom!"
The worm laughed. "You," it said, adopting the Common Tongue, somehow its voice was even more chilling, "are nothing more than a man playing god."
"How dare you, Worm!" Revak shouted. "I will destroy you, once and for all you sad excuse for a dovah!"
Alduin snorted, and soon Revak and Ralof stepped back as a pair of dark red eyes were visible through the mist. "You will try Dovahkiin, and you will fail as your kin did before you."
Revak stepped forward. "Begone! LOK VAH KOR!" he Shouted, and a stream of energy burst from him, clearing away the fog, revealing nothing but the path before them.
Ralof looked ahead in awe. "What was that?"
Revak shook his head. "That, my brother, was Alduin, the Destroyer."
"That was Alduin?" Ralof gasped. "Gods," Revak looked at him, "sorry, but how is the Dragonborn going to stand up to a beast like that? What was it saying?"
"Nothing but empty words," Revak said solemnly. "Come," he said, motioning forward down the path, "it should not be far now."
The path now cleared before them, they soon found the Hall of Valor. The Whale Bone Bridge spanned before them, and the hall behind it. The sheer size of the hall was amazing. It was beautiful, welcoming. He sighed inside. He would never join his fellow Nords in its honored halls.
A tall figure stood at the base of the bridge waiting for them. Tsun stood heads above them both. He gazed at them both sternly before stepping forward. Once close enough he immediately recognized Revak, and bowed. "Great Talos, you do me honor, why have you come to Sovngarde?"
Revak returned the nod. "It is an honor to meet you, Tsun, shield-thane of Shor. I have come bear witness to the honor of this man." He pointed to Ralof. "He has fought alongside the Dragonborn, Revak, in the fight against the Worm. You have my word on his mettle."
Tsun looked at Ralof. "Indeed," he said, "Ralof of Riverwood, I have met your kin, Hod of Riverwood, he waits for you in the Hall of Valor already."
Ralof's face lit up. "Is my sister there as well? Gerdur?"
Tsun shook his head. "She has yet to walk the honored halls." He stepped forward, looming over
Ralof. "Warrior, Stormcloak, husband, and friend… you are welcome in Shor's Hall." The shield-thane then stepped aside to let Ralof pass.
Ralof looked back at Revak. "Thank you," he said with a smile, "Revak." He passed Tsun and made his way across to the Hall of Valor. He looked back once. "Tell Lydia, I'll wait for her and I love her."
Ralof made it across, and the great doors opened for him, light and music spilling out into the openness of Sovngarde. Revak smiled. How had Ralof known? He might never know. Tsun turned to him. "Revak it is, then?" Tsun looked at him curiously. "I heard you'd returned to Tamriel, to the mortal world.
He returned the look. "To Skyrim, yes."
Tsun sighed, looking over Sovngarde. "The Worm waits in the mist. I do not envy your task, Talos."
Revak nodded back. He started to feel a cold rush over his body. "You are returning me to Nirn?"
"Yes," he said with a respectful nod, "you are not dead, not yet."
"I'll be back, Tsun," Revak said as he faded.
Health potions are disgusting. The more potent they are the more disgusting they are. And whatever it was that Malik had given him burned his throat and left an after taste of Skeever ****. Malik soon abandoned him to join the others surrounding Ralof. All of them hovered over the poor man, crying and apparently getting married. Cato kept his distance. He was sad of the Stormcloak's death, sure, but that didn't mean that he wanted the close company of companions, especially after what had happened with the Skeleton Key. Nocturnal must be pitching a fit right now in the Everglom, he thought sourly as he sat up. He would have to get that back, he decided. Revak would figure it was gone, but perhaps under different circumstances the Nord would see reason.
He rubbed where the arrow had pierced his arm. All that remained was a lump. He checked his chest, and there was a long raised red mark, but it was sealed. His skin felt tender to the touch, but all in all, the Khajiit did good work. He winced as he got to his knees, holding his side with the arm that hadn't been skewered a few moments ago. The group was still surrounding the Stormcloak, who was still holding on, and reaching for Revak. Cato got to his feet and made his way over to the others, but kept some distance, enough so that he could say he was there when asked. He gazed curiously as the Dragonborn's eyes went wide for a moment, then blank as Ralof shuddered once and breathed no more.
Lydia cried out, shaking her, now husband, and calling his name. But the Nord's eyes were blank and sightless. The Dragonborn just stared at his friend like he had just had a lengthy conversation with him. The Khajiit closed the Stormcloak's eyes and stood, pulling Lydia away.
Cato eyed the Khajiit. What were the chances? He could be wrong of course, but things were getting a little too familiar with him. Cathay-raht rarely left the homeland. His coloring was strange, and that roar, he'd heard it before he was sure. Could it really be the same Khajiit? The one he'd told to run?
It was something to be cautious of for sure.
He limped to Revak's side, each step bringing a new twinge of pain up his side. "We should keep moving," he said simply. "There may be more out there."
Revak nodded grimly. "Yes," he said, his voice slightly strained as he stood, "we should."
Malik appeared by Revak's other side, his dark wool cloak in hand and he draped it over the body.
The three stood in silence for a moment. "Nord's bury their dead, correct?"
"Yes," Revak answered.
"The stone is too hard here; maybe just take a few personal items to make a memorial?" Cato offered. Revak nodded, and without another word began searching Ralof for personal effects. There was the Amulet of Talos, the blood coated Stormcloak colors, axe, helmet, and Amulet of Mara. Revak bundled the smaller items in a bag, while Malik carried the larger ones. And while no one was looking Cato pocketed whatever coin he could find on the body.
Without asking, Malik took the body and laid it beside the dragon's bones. No one argued against it, after all, it seemed right. All silent they picked up whatever equipment of theirs that they could still use, which was only Revak and Lydia losing their shields. Revak continued the quest for the Elder Scroll, making their way to the large tower.
The door wasn't locked, but the inside seemed largely untouched by the Falmer. At least it didn't stink like them. The silent group made their way up the stairs and around into a large central chamber that almost took Cato's breath away. A large half dome sat in the center, with a strange contraption in the ceiling. Multiple arms had different reflective pieces of glass; all centered around this much smaller globe on a pole in the center of the room.
An ancient looking skeleton greeted them. Cato leaned down and picked up the ragged book beside it; a journal. "Revak," he called, breaking the silence, "I found something."
Revak joined him, and took the book from his hands. "This scholar," he said, closing the book, "said the Scroll is in this room, in the machine." He thrust the book into Cato's hands and made his way up the ledge and to the machine.
The others followed, only to nearly collide with Revak when he stopped in front of the machine, his mouth agape. Cato took to his side and saw why.
Gods, no! He thought looking at the scene before him. He looked at Revak, and the rage was obvious, Lydia was crying again, and Malik had teeth bared. After all that, it came to this? Cato's heart sunk into his stomach.
The Elder Scroll was gone.
Dragon Language translations as they appear:
Nii rinik gut, mey se aan joor – Not very far, fool of a mortal.
Drem – Dream
Brit – Beauty
YOL-TOR-SHUL – Fire-Inferno-Sun (Fire Breath Shout)
Grik faas hiu lost – Such fear you have
Zu faas niid gein - I fear no one.
Vahzah? Him kah fen kos bonaar, Dovahkiin- True? Your pride will be humbled, Dragonborn.
Him sille fen nahkip suleyki. Nust wo ni qiilaan fen kos duaan, orin hin- Your souls willfeed my power. Those who do not bow will be devoured.
Zu qiilaan niid gein! Zu'u Talos! Faal Dovah do brom – I bow to no one! I am Talos! The Dragon of the North!
Dovahkiin – Dragonborn
LOK-VAH-KOR – Sky-Spring-Summer(Clear Skies Shout)
The chants are from the main theme, "Sons of Skyrim".
A/N: Thanks so much for reading! Finally, "Sovngarde Beckons" is done. This was one of the hardest 'chapters' to put out so far, and yes, that did just happen. Sorry.
"So when you fall,
I'll take my turn,
And fan the flames,
As your blazes burn."
-"Burn It Down", Linkin Park
Eirik looked up at the largest man he had ever seen in his life. He stumbled to his feet, immediately noticing that he would barely come up to the man's chest. The giant had a wide belt made of leather and steel to protect his stomach, though his chest remained bare. The man also wore several thick bracelets, each stamped with constellations. A steel torc adorned his neck, another on his arm. He had shoulder length brown hair and silver eyes. There was a presence about this man, a glow. He looked like a man, but he was definitely not so.
The giant leaned forward. Eirik stepped back with a scowl. When no words were forthcoming, the giant spoke, "I am Tsun, Shield-Thane to Shor. The Whalebone Bridge he bade me guard and winnow all those souls whose heroic end sent them here, to Shor's Hall, where welcome, well-earned, awaits those I judge fit to join that fellowship of honor." Eirik scowled in thought. He had heard that name before.
"You do not belong here," Tsun said. His voice was deep and forbearing. "Your soul is already claimed by the hunter-prince." Tsun frowned and reached for his axe. "Shor's gift is no place for beasts to dwell. Take your leave, bearer of Beast Blood, and do not return."
It was then that Eirik heard the growling behind him. Tsun had stepped back, standing directly in the entrance to the Whalebone Bridge, his axe in hand, watching. Eirik turned, but he was not surprised to find the group of werewolves that had gathered around him. There were at least two dozen of them.
Each of them stood heads above him. Some had them had teeth bared, others stood back, merely watching. They surrounded him, closing off any exit. Instinctively, Eirik reached for his blade, only to find he did not have one. He wasn't even in his armor; instead he wore only a pair of worn and ragged pants.
They did not attack him; instead they tried to take him hold. One wolf tried to grip his arm, but Eirik pulled his arm away, coming back with claw marks along his shoulder. More and more grabbed at him, pulling him down. There were simply too many and he had no weapon.
Save for one.
He let loose a war cry, deep and loud. The wolves hesitated in their attempts to restrain him. He felt his heart pounding faster in his chest. He breathed, willing the change upon him, calling on his beast blood to flow freely.
The pain was something he had come to crave. It had been years since that first transformation when he had discovered what it meant to be truly alive, to be truly powerful. At first, the pain was excruciating. But, in time, he had come to love the burning of his skin, the peeling of flesh. It was like being released from binds every time. He fell to his knees as the transformation began to take him. He gazed at his hands, now covered in his own blood as claws replace his fingernails.
He screamed, not in pain, not in despair, but in relief.
His human screams were slowly becoming roars as his vocal chords adjusted to the transformation. He bared his now pointed teeth, growling. The world was turning red around him. The wolves had stepped back, their golden-yellow eyes watching him, no longer attempting to restrain him, for they knew him to be their brother, their pack.
Save for one.
Eirik felt a hand on his shoulder, and, almost immediately, the transformation halted in its place and his body began returning to its human form. He coughed, panting to catch his breath. He looked up. A grizzled white werewolf had been the one to lay a paw on his shoulder, kneeling before him. Its golden eyes were foggy, and its fur patched and thin. There was a familiar wisdom in those hazed eyes. He stared into them with wide eyes, not needing time to recognize who this old wolf was.
Their glances connected. There was something unspoken passing between them; more than a message, more than a simple connection, something powerful. This wolf wanted him to know, no, he wanted him to feel what he felt.
The old wolf still had his clawed hand on Eirik's shoulder. Eirik looked at the ground, choosing his next actions very carefully. He looked at the wolf's arm on his shoulder, and laid his now human hand on the wolf's upper arm. Then he stared into his eyes, pouring all his power into the single hardened glance as he uttered one sentence, "I am not sorry."
The old wolf bared his teeth, a low growl escaping its maw. Finally, something snapped, the Beast Blood taking control, fueled by very human anger.
The old wolf roared, deep and loud.
Eirik tried to cover his ears.
Only to find he could not move his arms. He blinked away the visions. His eyes went wide as he noticed he was being pinned down. A red furred werewolf was holding him down by his arms, its eyes staring at him with as much concern as the beast could show. Its fur brushed lightly against his bare chest. He knew this wolf, just as he knew the one in the dream.He gave a reassuring smile as he grabbed her forearm. He nodded. Within moments the wolf was gone, replaced by his wife.
She was still sitting on top of him, not that Eirik minded that at all. He really didn't mind that she was nude and on top of him; of course then he realized he was nude as well. Her eyes were still swimming with concern. She touched his face gently. "Eirik, what happened?"
Knowing that he would regret it later, he sat up. She, being the amazing woman she was, stayed in his lap as he straightened himself to look around the room. He returned her touch just as softly, tracing the outline of the war paint on her face.
He took a moment to take in their surroundings. They were in what was left of their room, though it looked like a mammoth had gone on a rampage during the night. He shook his head, feeling the headache that was beginning to show itself. He looked back at Aela with a raised brow.
"You transformed," she explained. "You went wild. I had to stop you before you tore all of Jorrvaskr down." Eirik nodded. He had expected as much. His attention was drawn to the blood on his wife's chest. He wiped it off, unsure of where it had come from. He looked at her, his gaze following hers to his left shoulder where three long claw marks bled slowly, the wound healing rapidly thanks to the Beast Blood; the same marks that he had gotten from the wolf in the
He looked back at Aela. "I'm sorry. You fought against me. I could barely keep you pinned." She shook her head. "What happened?"
He took her face in his hands, kissing her slowly, passionately. When the kiss was finished he pressed his forehead to hers. She nodded slowly, knowing this was his way of saying he was alright.
She nodded, pressing herself against his bare chest. He felt her, warm against him, feeling himself wanting more. She looked up at him and he let out a wolfish grin before taking her in his arms and standing, carrying her to what was left of their bed.
Whatever had happened in the dream, he would remember it in the morning. He would have the rest of his life to contemplate. But tonight he would be in his wife's arms.
And he was not sorry.
Eirik watched his wife's sleeping form with jealous eyes. Sleep did not come easy to their kind, nor did it come easily after what he had experienced over the night. Something was not normal about the dream, he could say that much. He remembered Kodlak speaking of having a dream very similar to it. In fact, it had been that dream that had spurred him to search for a cure to their… condition.
Eirik scowled. They were not infected, nor tainted. Having the Beast Blood was a gift, not a condition. It made them more than mere men, an advantage. The Beast Blood made them stronger; they healed faster, their senses more acute, and increased their skills in battle. Those gifts and the form alone made it worthwhile. It was not only that. Aela was just as proud of bearing the Beast Blood. She had taught him everything he knew when he had first been changed. She, like him, would never want a cure, to change, in essence, who they were. He loved her more than anything else in the world. To even consider making their Beast Blood
something that needed a cure would insult her.
With a silent sigh, he rolled out of bed, careful not to disturb Aela. His armor stood proudly in the corner. He began the tedious work of arming himself. It was fine work, perhaps some of the best he had ever seen come from the Skyforge. It was of Eirik's own design. It was a mix of ebony inlaid with steel, like no other work he had ever seen. It was designed after the ancient armor he had seen the statue of Ysgramor wearing, but with his own touches. A wolf head adorned each shoulder rather than a dragon, and rather than a mail cloak he wore a black wolf skin cloak. As he fastened his cloak the thoughts were still running through his mind.
If Sovngarde was the price to pay, Eirik didn't mind. He would be remembered as the greatest Harbinger in a hundred years. He knew it to be true. The Companions needed to be strong, and if being werewolves made them stronger, then so be it. Nonetheless, Sovngarde or not, he would be remembered.
No, Eirik was not apologetic in the slightest about what had happened to the old wolf… only that it had to be done and that Eirik was the only one strong enough to do it.
A knock on the door took Eirik away from his thoughts. He turned; ready to answer the door, only to find Aela already on the task. How long had she been awake? She opened the door, Eirik smiled at Torvar's wide eyes as it opened, for Aela had neglected to put on any clothing before answering. Erikir stood behind Aela, watching Torvar with careful eyes. The whelp shut his eyes with haste, not wanting to offend the Harbinger (a wise move), his cheeks red as a forge. "I got a message for the Harbinger," he managed to stutter out.
Aela crossed her arms as Eirik laid a hand on her shoulder. "Well," she said, "out with it."
"A dark elf got here not a few minutes ago, said somethin' about working for the Jarl, says she wanted to talk to the Harbinger."
Irileth. Eirik nodded with confirmation. It had happened then. He hadn't spoken to his uncle in months, his father in years. The only reason they would invite him to the palace would be to request the Companions assistance against an enemy. He had seen the Stormcloak officer leave the city less than a week ago; he could only guess the enemy the Jarl wished him to assist them with.
It was finally happening; Ulfric Stormcloak's civil war had reached Whiterun.
Eirik had been anticipating this. Whiterun was a strategic location. It was the heartland of Skyrim. The hold had the largest concentration of farmland in the country, enough to feed an army for years. It was the easiest route across the country as well, due to it being mostly flatlands save for its southern border, which, if Eirik were to believe the rumors he had heard about the Kingslayer, held the greatest treasure in all the holds; the birthplace of the Nords, the Throat of the World itself. Taking the hold was not only strategic, but wise. An army could easily use the central position of Whiterun to travel any direction in Skyrim easily, and any transports by the Empire would be force to move around it. It was wise in that Nords, though they may act as unmovable as mountains, are a superstitious people. Taking the Throat of the World would
boost morale greatly.
If the Stormcloaks took Whiterun, all of Skyrim would not be far behind.
Even the land, it seemed, was in mourning. The sun was hidden behind an overcast sky, threatening to snow again. After they escaped the ruin using a dwarven contraption that brought them directly to the surface they had simply stood in the snow, frozen in their own thoughts. The Elder Scroll was gone, Ralof was dead, and now they had no clear path on what to do next, save to get somewhere safe and clean themselves of the blood.
Malik had not known the Stormcloak long, but he had seemed the good sort. He was honest, and kind. He had greeted each day with a smile. The Nord's skills as a warrior were unmatched by most. He was a man who had fought for what he believed in, and died for what he had loved. All in all, it was a good death. After all, wasn't it better to die for love than to die alone?
The group was silent as they processed in what could only be called a death march down the stone path south. It had been two days since the loss of their companion, and each of them was at a loss, though every one of them in their own way. The Dragonborn had not looked anyone in the eye since they left the ruin. His eyes, instead, were focused miles away. Lydia was mourning the loss of her newlywed husband. Cato was skirting the edges of their group, obviously unsure of how the others would respond when they did, in fact, respond at all. Malik watched him with a wary eye.
They followed the Dragonborn without question, his role as their leader was solidly built. No one would question him, despite the events at Alftand. There was something about him, an aura that just made you want to follow him. He had leadership, though it was not given, it was by birth. Perhaps that was part of being Dragonborn. He led them to the south, following the path that would eventually lead them to Windhelm.
Soon, they saw an inn in the distance. Cato hesitated as he saw the place, staring at the lake nearby. Malik looked back at him with a curious eye. The Imperial caught the glance, but said nothing as they moved forward. Malik gazed at the sign above the door; the Nightgate Inn.
Cato held out his arm at the door, blocking Revak from opening it. The Dragonborn looked at him as if deciding how to Shout the Imperial to smithereens. Standing his ground the thief pointed at a carving just to the right of the door, a circle within a diamond. "It's a shadowmark," he said shortly, "for the Guild."
Revak grunted impatiently. "So there are buddies of yours in there, what of it?"
Cato shook his head. "I think you don't understand the… relations between the Guild and its outlaying groups. Some aren't too friendly with the Guild proper."
"And here I thought you had control over the Guild," Revak said.
"You can't control everyone," Cato said with a shake of his head.
The Dragonborn sighed and took a step back, letting the thief go in first. "Some members were not very happy that I took control. I don't know who put this mark here, or who they have allegiances to," the thief whispered as he opened the door. The rest followed suit. It was a simple inn, just like any other, though the roaring hearth was a more than welcome sight. The place was deserted save for the keep and a Nord who seemed to be already deep in his cups, despite the time of day.
Cato went straight to the keep, his hood was down, and his trader face on. "Welcome to the Nightgate Inn," the keep said with a tinge of excitement. He must not get very much patronage out here. "I'm Hadring, the owner. What you looking for? Mead? Rooms? Hot meal?"
"Fine establishment you have here," Cato commented.
"This old place? Been here forever. Built by my great grandda. Run by him, then all the way up the line to me," Hadring said with pride.
"I couldn't help but notice that carving by the front door."
The man froze briefly. "You… you saw that, huh?" Cato nodded. The Nord sighed. "It's been there as long as I can remember. My da didn't say much about it, save for if anyone said they recognized it that they was to be treated to whatever they needed."
Cato smiled. "I recognize it, but don't worry. We don't need protection, just rooms."
"Ten gold a night."
Cato placed a large sack on the counter. "This should cover any expenses for our time here, for the four of us." The innkeep stared at the sack, which was easily twice as much as he had asked for. He looked at Cato curiously. "We were never here."
"Got it," Hadring agreed, taking the sack. "Got three rooms, take 'em all. Gonna have to share
"We'll manage," Cato said, stepping away.
Malik watched the exchange with intrigue. So, the former Legate was not light in the pockets. He had to wonder, was that his money, or his Guild's? There was easily a hundred Septims in that bag, and Malik had the feeling that Cato had more than just that. The group naturally followed the Dragonborn to the hearth. Cato ordered some stew, bread, and mead, to which Hadring was more than happy to deliver. Soon they had hot meals before them and they ate in silence, at least until Malik could not take the silence anymore. "What now?" he asked simply. The question held so much meaning for such simple words.
He was met with silence. The Dragonborn did not even look away from his meal. His blue eyes were unfocused, hazed. "Revak?"
"I don't know," he said finally, downing his mead and standing, leaving half his meal still there as he walked to one of the rooms, closing the door behind him.
The day went on. Malik kept to himself, mixing more health potions for Lydia. As night fell, Revak still had not left his room. Nonetheless, Lydia stood outside his door, despite Malik's assurance that it would be better for her to rest, not only because her leg, but to take time to heal her heart as well. Occasionally they would hear crashing; making Hadring flinch, but Cato assured him he would pay for any damages. The gift of deep pockets, Malik reminded himself.
Eventually Lydia abandoned her post and instead made way to one of the tables. Malik watched from his corner table as one drink turned to three, and then three to six. Cato was in the corner, watching just as Malik was. Malik sighed. The Nords were not taking Ralof's death very well at all.
Malik watched as Cato approached Lydia's table just as she was finishing her most recent tankard of mead. "Mind?" he said, gesturing to the chair across from her. She merely grunted in response. Cato waved for another round. "I'm sorry about Ralof," the thief said simply as Hadring delivered two more tankards.
She took the tankard and downed nearly half of it in one draft. Cato took a short drink of his. Malik smirked as the Imperial blinked at the strength of the drink. "I know what it's like to lose someone," he said, his voice gentle.
"Humph," was all Lydia bothered to say before downing the rest of her mead.
"If you want to talk…"
She slammed down the metal tankard. "Oblivion take you," she nearly barked.
Cato just stared. "I'm just trying to help."
"Yeah?" She then took his mead and started drinking it. "It's your damn fault we're in this mess. It's your fault he's dead."
"'Cause it shoulda been you, you useless piece of ****." She threw the now empty mead tank at Cato, who didn't even bother to dodge it, before continuing, her slur now slightly worse, "Where were you? Huh? And then what we went there for wasn't even there in the damn first place. He died for nothing!" She stood, using the table to balance herself. "I don't know why in Oblivion he keeps you with us, 'cause you've been nothing but a problem from day one!"
"He died to protect us."
She pointed at him. "'Us'? What makes you think you're worth his life? You're just a thief and a murderer for hire. Why him? Where were you? Hiding behind your little spells and sneaking around like a bloody coward! Ralof was a true warrior, a good man." She looked at Cato with disgust. "You're nothing, nothing to us, to Skyrim. You're no sodding better than the scum off my boots." For emphasis, she pointed at her very muddy boots. Perhaps she has had enough mead for now, Malik thought. He made his way over to the table, leaning on a post nearby.
She slammed her fists on the table, completely oblivious the giant Khajiit that had joined them. "It should have been you."
"Fine!" Cato argued. "Maybe he didn't die for me, but he did die for you!"
She just stared, her face getting redder by the second.
Enough of this, Malik thought with a cringe. "Both of you, stop," he said loudly, trying to get their attention. "Lydia, Cato did his best. What happened to Ralof was not the fault of anyone."
Cato looked at him, his face solemn. He nodded. "Right, it was no one's fault. "
Lydia took none of it. The table was thrown aside as Lydia full body tackled the Imperial with a roar. The thief didn't strike back; instead he was trying to get away. Lydia stepped back, and Cato rose to his feet just as Lydia was winding back for a punch.
But it never landed. Malik stepped in between them, catching her fist in his paw, a gentle hand on her shoulder stopping her in her tracks. She roared in anger, trying to break free, but Malik had her wrists firmly in his grip. "Lydia…" Malik said gently.
She paused, looking into Malik's eyes, tears starting to appear. "This is not what he would want," Malik consoled.
Cato stood tall, his face sad. He opened his arms wide. "Do it."
Malik looked back. "Wait, what?"
"Just," Cato trailed. "Lydia, do it."
Malik shook his head. "You can't be serious-"
Before he could finish the sentence, Lydia broke free. Malik tried to catch her, but she was moving too fast. Her gauntleted fist was aimed right for the thief's face. The thief made no movements, just stood there, waiting, acceptance in his eyes. Lydia put all her weight into one blow with a resounding crack. Cato spun to the side, taking to his knee, his hand on his face. He turned, blood dripping out of his nose.
Seeing the blood must have broken something in the young housecarl. Lydia bit her lip as the sobs came. She fell, Malik catching her in his arms as sobs wracked her body. Malik rocked with her, holding her close. He had no tears, but his heart was just as heavy. He eyed the thief, who was wiping the blood from his face.
Cato knelt beside them, laying a hand on her shoulder, but she was too distraught to shy him away. "I lost my wife and son," he said softly. "I couldn't do anything. I wasn't there. " He paused. "I can still see their…" he stopped there, the words caught in his throat.
"I understand," he managed to say before walking away.
The next morning, Malik awoke on the floor outside Lydia's room. He refused to share a room with the thief, despite the man's supposed good intentions. His back was sore and his mouth was dry.
That and he was pretty sure that Lydia had gotten up in the middle of the night to do business and stepped on his tail on her way out the door. He stood and made his way to the nearest table, now that they were all right side up again, to nibble on some of the leftover bread from last night.
The innkeep was already up, cleaning the slew of cups that Lydia had gone through last night. Malik glanced at the door to the Dragonborn's room; still closed. Malik stood, stretching as he made his way to the counter. "Water please," he asked politely.
Hadring nodded, pulling out a pitcher of water. "Funny thing," he commented as he poured the water into a clean tankard, "I've never heard that you cat people snore."
"I do not snore."
The Nord smirked. "So you think."
Malik laughed lightly before finishing his water. "If any of my friends wake up, tell them I am outside please."
Hadring nodded. "The big one," he paused, "the big Nord, is already outside. Didn't say a word to me; head in the clouds that one."
"A few days ago a good friend of ours was killed," Malik said sadly.
The keep nodded. "I figured that much. Sorry for your loss."
Malik bowed in thanks before heading outside. The sun was already peeking out from the clouds and the crisp Skyrim air was refreshing. A fresh coat of snow had fallen overnight, light and airy. Malik could easily see large booted footprints leading from the door. The footprints lead his gaze to an outcropping of stone that hung above the lake. Malik took a step, but paused, stepping back to look at his own footprint; a reminder of how different he was from man and mer. Shaking away the random thought he followed the large boot prints to the stone.
Soon he found the Dragonborn looking over the lake. He was still in his armor. Malik winced at the sight of it. The poor steel was so scratched and beaten the sheen was nearly gone. There were even a few smudges of blood still etched in the smaller crevices. How much of it was Ralofs? The Dragonborn was just standing there, still as a statue, watching the sun rise higher in the sky.
Malik stepped beside him. "You are out early."
The Dragonborn said nothing.
Malik sighed. "I know that things did not go as we had planned them," he said, trying to grip his thoughts into the right string of words, "but that does not mean we have failed. There are other Scrolls out there."
Revak sighed. "And how many more will die before we do find one?"
"We told you we would fight beside you," Malik pointed out. "Ralof knew risk. We all do."
"Then maybe it's best if I travel alone."
"You could try," Malik mused, trying to lighten the mood. He sighed, his voice growing somber.
"This mission of yours, Dragonborn, people will die, many have died already-"
"You're not bringing this into a better light-"
"More will die if you fight alone."
The Dragonborn looked at him sadly. "I know."
Malik and the Dragonborn returned to the inn together. The Dragonborn had agreed to hold another meeting to discuss what exactly to do next. When they entered the common area they were surprised to find that they were no longer the sole tenants of the inn. A Stormcloak soldier was speaking with Hadring. The man was speaking mile a minute, seeing Malik and the Dragonborn Hadring called them over.
The Dragonborn looked at Malik, who simply shrugged. Hadring was buzzing with excitement. "Big news on the war," he said with a wide grin, "this gentleman's a local courier for Ulfric."
The Dragonborn crossed his arms. "What news?"
The Stormcloak turned to them. "Ulfric's finally moving on Whiterun."
"What?!" the Dragonborn nearly shouted. "The Jarl actually chose a side?"
"Apparently," the Stormcloak said with a nod. "Ulfric sent Stormblade himself to deliver a final offer to Balgruuf, the Jarl denied it. Now the whole army is moving on 'em. You should see the size of it my brother! Wish I could fight. I took a damn arrow to the knee last fall and haven't been right since, so now I'm just a courier."
Without warning, Revak charged the Stormcloak, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and towering over him, his face inches from the Stormcloak's. "How far are they from Whiterun?!" he roared.
The Stormcloak's eyes went wide in shock. "Faithless Imperial humping traitor, like I'd tell you!"
The Dragonborn's gauntleted fist collided with the Stormcloak's face.
"Who the Oblivion are you?" Hadring shouted out.
Malik flashed his claws at the innkeep with a toothed grin. "None of your concern, Nord." The man didn't speak again.
"I'm not going to ask a third time," the Dragonborn growled.
The Stormcloak clamped his mouth shut, shaking his head. The Dragonborn punched him again.
"Do you know who I am?!"
The man said nothing.
"I'm the Dragonborn, and the Thane of Whiterun. You're going to tell me or I will Shout you off the nearest mountain, on fire. Do you understand?!"
"I didn't sign up for this! A week!" the Stormcloak caved. "A week, it will take a week to gather the army and march to the city!"
"You disgust me," the Dragonborn hissed, dropping the Stormcloak to the ground. "Go tell Ulfric.
Whiterun doesn't stand alone." The Stormcloak stared at him. "NOW!"
The courier fled out the door.
"Revak?" a voice said from behind them. They turned seeing Lydia behind them. How long has she
The Dragonborn nodded. "I know." His fists balled at his sides. "I made an oath, and I don't intend to break it."
Lydia nodded. "I'm with you, my Thane."
The site outside Windhelm's walls warmed his heart. Hundreds of his brothers had gathered outside the city. Hundreds of fires lit the sky, the rich smell of wood smoke filling the air. It was a good day to be a true Nord. As he gazed over the walls he smiled. Things were in motion. Once Whiterun was taken the march on Solitude would not be far behind. He prayed to Talos that that day would come soon.
His whole being shook with excitement. The time between preparing to march and actually reaching the city was excruciating. He looked down at his new armor. Ulfric had made him one of his officers, an honor that had no bounds. Now, not only would he fight against the pretenders, he would be leading his fellow Nords to take back Skyrim from the Imperial swine that had claimed their homeland.
"Stormblade," he heard a voice behind him call. He turned, seeing one of his comrades behind him. "You've been requested the palace."
Jorund nodded. "Thank you." He paused. "What is your name sister?"
The Stormcloak saluted; a fist over her heart. "Sigrid."
"I look forward to fighting at your side sister."
"Stormblade," she acknowledged before continuing on.
He nodded to her as she passed. A true warmaiden, he thought, watching her leave. He turned, making his way down from the walls and to the palace. Ulfric requested my presence? he thought with a grin. Finally the true High King saw him not only as a soldier, but as a leader, a comrade, someone he could depend on to get things done. Pride grew in Jorund's heart. He had worked so hard to achieve this. It had been a lifelong dream to bring glory to his name, and what better way than to become one of Ulfric Stormcloak's most trusted men? Jorund imagined himself storming Whiterun's gates, a thousand true Nords had his back and fallen Imperials at his feet.
It was a vision he would make real.
The two guards nodded at him as he passed the gates to the old palace. The great table was
bare save for a few candles. Even the throne was empty. Banners bearing the Stormcloak bear adorned the walls. Jorund made his way to the other side of the hall, unsure of what exactly to do next. He paused, hearing voices in the room to the side. Ulfric's deep voice boomed from it,
Jorund catching only a few… choice words.
Jorund watched with a raised brow as a young boy in Stormcloak colors came bounding out from the room, his face red with embarrassment and shaking like a leaf. The boy's face lit up with relief as he saw Jorund. "Stormblade sir, Jarl Ulfric is waiting for you," he said, catching his breath.
Jorund nodded. "Thank you." The boy returned the nod before running through the front gates like he was fleeing a horde of daedra.
The war room was simple. The great man himself leaned over a map on the table, his brow furrowed in concentration as he studied it. His chief advisor, the great warrior Galmar Stone-Fist stood across from Ulfric. The old man stared at his Jarl from beneath his bear helm. "Even if we could deliver every one of our soldiers, Ulfric, Whiterun has its walls. Not only that, but once past those it will be an uphill battle to Dragonsreach."
Ulfric shook his head. "Tullius is selfish, he won't send half the soldiers needed to man those walls." The Jarl paused.
"What about the Companions?"
"The Companions will not fight against an invading force," Ulfric said with a knowing sigh. "It is
not their way to involve themselves in politics."
"They have a new Harbinger, I've heard he's related to Balgruuf."
Ulfric looked away from his map. "If he is Harbinger then he already knows his organization's place in Skyrim. Leave the Companions be and they will not be a thorn in oursides."He gazed, finally seeing Jorund in the doorway. "Stormblade," he greeted, standing straighted and gesturing towards the map, "join us."
"Yes, Jarl Ulfric," Jorund said with a salute. He made his way towards the map, a map of Whiterun hold.
Galmar scoffed. "It should be 'High King Ulfric'."
"Not yet," Ulfric said, shaking his head, "not until the Empire is on its heels and running and we have taken their precious 'capital'. Not until Tullius is dead or has sworn fealty to me. Not until Skyrim is free from the pretenders and is ruled by those would give their lives to defend it. Not until Skyrim is returned to the Nords will I claim my place as its High King."
He leaned over the table again. "And Whiterun is the first step to doing just that."
He turned to Jorund. "Stormblade, are you willing to do this? Lead your fellows, in my name."
"Always," Jorund said proudly, "I am your man until Sovngarde takes me."
Ulfric nodded. It was then that he revealed the plans for taking the city. Jorund could not help
the small smile that graced his lips as he listened to the great man. Ulfric was only interrupted by a knock at the door. Jorund watched as the boy opened the door, followed by a figure wearing a dark cloak. "Sir, this gentleman has papers instructing that he be escorted directly to you."
Ulfric looked at the newcomer and nodded. "Thank you, please, leave us."
The boy saluted, shutting the door behind him and leaving the stranger. Galmar beat Jorund to the question. "Who are you?"
"Relax Galmar," Ulfric said, a smirk on his face. "This is our very good friend from Whiterun."
Both Jorund and Galmar continued to stare at their newcomer. The stranger lowered his hood, revealing an old Nord before them. The old man saluted. "It is nice to finally meet you in person, Jarl Ulfric."
"Likewise," Ulfric responded. "So, Vignar, what news do you bring?"
Galmar raised a brow in surprise. "Gray-Mane?"
Vignar Gray-Mane smiled as he reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a worn paper and handing it to the Jarl. Eagerly, the Jarl unfolded it. It was a map of the inner city of Whiterun, but in more detail than Jorund had been able to obtain in his short time in the city. The old man pointed to the northern part of the map, the Skyforge. "The Skyforge," Galmar said, glancing ad
Vignar suspiciously, "what of it?"
The old man smiled. "Whiterun's walls are not as secure as Jarl Balgruuf believes."
Attn: The following contains violence involving minors, and may be triggering for some readers.
Reader discretion advised.
Also note, the following happens alongside the events in "Sovngarde Beckons", chapters 17-19.
Also apparently PC's filter doesn't like a certain Daedric Prince's name.
The Blood of Kings and Gods
She had been sure they weren't followed. The Grandmaster had made all the usual cautions, low fires at camp, taking the roads less traveled, everything she had learned in her training. Perhaps that was why this was happening. Had her caution become lazy? Had she become accustomed to the paranoia to the point of normalcy? Whatever mistakes she had made, this was the truth they faced.
They'd been found.
A group Thalmor Justiciars stood before the Blades. Delphine scowled. She counted six in all; three mages and three warriors. The warriors Delphine knew she would have no trouble overpowering, but the mages were a different story entirely. They could easily paralyze her on the spot or simply roast her in her armor without much of a second thought. She heard Esbern grunt beside her. She glanced at the old Nord. His hands were defiantly balled at his sides, and his face bore a scowl to match hers. At least she wasn't alone. Her hand went immediately for the katana at her side as one question became apparent in her mind. Why haven't they attacked yet?
A mage stepped forward. Delphine fought back the urge to draw her weapon and attack. They were already outnumbered three to one; she didn't want to push them to attack needlessly. She would wait for them to make the first move, a decision that almost made her cringe. The made seemed to sense her nerves, a sly smile formed on the elf's lips. "You are a hard woman to find," the elf said, her voice mockingly sweet. Two of the warriors stepped to her side, their hands waiting on their swords with eager hands.
The guard to her right grunted. "Orien, are you sure these two are the Blades? They look too weak, the files said that they were dangerous."
Delphine's grip on her sword tightened as she held back an insult.
"Silence, Arcan," she said curtly before returning her attention to Delphine. "The silent type then? Very well," the elf said, shaking her head.
"Let's skip formalities then. As you know, Blades, your call for extermination has been active for some time. Yet, somehow, you two managed to slip out of our grasp time and again. Our orders were to kill you on site."
Delphine grunted. "What are you waiting for, then?"
Now the elf scowled. Was that disapproval? "The orders have changed." Delphine's eyes grew wide. No, she thought, anything but that.
"Grandmaster Blade Delphine, Grand Archivist Esbern, you are under arrest in accordance with the White-Gold Concordat, come peacefully or we will have to use force."
Esbern stepped forward, his palms up. "Why change our sentence, Thalmor?"
The Justiciar mage sneered. "You are believed to have information regarding the Nord who falsely claims himself to be Dragonborn."
Delphine drew her katana, the metal singed as it left its sheath, its sheen glinting in the morning sun. She pointed it forward. "You will never take me alive."
Esbern looked back. "Delphine?"
The old man nodded then turned back to the elf. "I'm afraid we don't accept your sentence."
The elf scowled, her eyes glinting in restrained fury. She moved to raise her hand to call her fellows to attack, but was too late. Esbern had already raised his hands, his lips moving soundlessly as he called forth his magicka. A strange symbol appeared at his feet, and air around him blew out with a concussive force, knocking back the mage and causing the two guards beside her to stumble. The other three Thalmor hesitated with shocked faces before prepping themselves for battle.
Delphine took the opportunity to strike. "FOR TALOS!" she cried as she charged forward to the closest warrior, the one named Arcan, ducking his feeble attempt regain his footing with a swing of his sword. She had fought with the Thalmor on numerous occasions. While their armor was grand, it had its weak points like any other. With a cry she plunged her katana through the gap in his armor below his arm, delving deep and puncturing his lungs. She kicked him off her sword, letting him fall to the ground as he sputtered his last bloody breaths.
The mage Oriena ducked behind the other warrior. Coward, Delphine thought, raising her blade to meet the elf's, only to see it consumed in flame. She jumped away from the flames, glancing back at Esbern. The old man was smirking behind his newly summoned fire atronach. The warrior fell heavily, smoke rising from the charred remains. The fire daedra hovered inches above the ground, awaiting orders. "Take the mages!" the old Nord ordered. Without delay, the atronach moved, sending a ball of fire at the nearest mage.
We can do this, she told herself. If Esbern focused on the mages, she could take out the last warrior. She tried to find him amongst the chaos, but instead felt a strong burning sensation throughout her body. Her limbs stiffened as her blood seemed to boil in her veins. Her eyes saw nothing but white flashing light, realizing too late that she'd been struck with a lightning spell. She lost control of herself. Her sword left her hand, falling onto the ground with a clatter. As the constricting light faded Delphine fell to her knees. She closed her eyes and opened them repeatedly, trying to clear the fuzzy white spots that clouded her vision. She tried to push herself up, but her strength was gone.
The world returned to her with a roar.
She managed to look up just as Esbern was falling. The last Thalmor warrior had taken the opportunity to bash Esbern in the head with his shield. Delphine winced at the odd cracking sound that came from the collision of metal and bone. The atronach faded away with the old Nord's consciousness. "Esbern…" she managed to mumble. She tried to push herself up, but her muscles failed her.
She heard footsteps come closer. Helpless and unable to move, Delphine glanced at the boots of the lead Thalmor mage. The mage knelt, grabbing Delphine's chin with a sneer, their eyes meeting. The mage smiled before slapping Delphine's face with such force that the Blade was thrown backwards. Not this way, Delphine told herself. Gathering what strength she could, she rose to her feet. The mage snickered as Delphine swayed and fell to her knee once more, the world spinning around her. Damn it all.
The last Grandmaster of the Blades closed her eyes, waiting for the shackles to be placed around her wrist. Instead, the Thalmor's laughter stopped suddenly, followed by the thump of something heavy beside her. When she opened her eyes she saw the head of the Thalmor mage, its mouth still open in surprise and its eyes wide in fear. The body was tossed aside.
In its place stood a tall figure wielding two long black daggers, both of them dripping with dark blood. It stood as tall as the high elves and was wearing dark medium plate armor, Delphine recognized it as ebony, but it was like no armor she'd seen before. It was intricate, beautiful. Beneath the black it wore a dark purple. More importantly, it was not alone. A large warrior clad in golden armor was already finishing off one of the Thalmor assassins. It stood taller than the Altmer and shared their golden complexion, but something about them told Delphine that it was not a high elf. Beside it a reptile-like creature was tearing a mage apart with long claws. It had a large hood like growth coming from its skull that it used to ram the mage to the ground, where its beak-like mouth and claws could then do damage to the incapacitated Altmer. The two remaining mages were cleaved by the golden warrior before they even had a chance to release a single spell. The Thalmor warrior managed to dodge a few of the reptile's charges before he was simply overpowered by the strange beast.
Within seconds the battle was over. Delphine managed to finally stand, albeit shakily. The carnage these warriors left behind was worthy of a dragon. The three of them stood together amongst the corpses of the Thalmor. The simply disappeared and the golden warrior bowed to the warrior in black before it too was nothing but dust in the wind.
The warrior in black turned to her, looking at her from beneath its hood. A shiver went down her spine. It felt like he was judging her. She stared. Her voice caught in her throat as she tried to speak, "Who…?" Looking away, he sheathed his two blades on his back and with one last look over his shoulder, he, too, disappeared, leaving the Blades alone amongst the remnants of the battle.
Her questions were too many to process at once. Instead she focused on the basics, what she knew. They were alive, both of them judging by Esbern's groans behind her. The Thalmor were actively hunting the Dragonborn. She had no doubt that Revak could easily handle a group of Thalmor, after all, she'd seen him fell a dragon with naught but his Voice and a sword.
She stumbled to where her sword lay, not passing the chance to spit on the remains of the mage that had slapped her. After sheathing her weapon she went to Esbern. "Is it over?" the old man groaned.
"Yeah," Delphine said, her voice hoarse from being electrocuted, "it's over. But we need to get moving. There might be more of them." She knelt down beside him, her hand wiping away the blood from his temple.
Esbern nodded feebly. His eyes were barely open. The old man was barely holding onto consciousness.
Delphine took Esbern's arm and draped it over her shoulder, taking some of the old man's weight as they limped down the path. Delphine's eyes scanned around her nervously. She didn't like taking the main road, but given the circumstances, if they were attacked again maybe help would be closer than if they had taken a road less traveled. Chances were unlikely. They were in Imperial territory. The sun was setting. They needed to find an inn, a farmhouse, anything to provide shelter; even a cave would be better than staying on this path.
Suddenly she felt Esbern sag beside her. The old man had succumbed unconsciousness once again. The blow to his head, she feared, was worse than she'd thought. She lowered Esbern to the ground, careful to lay his head down gently. They needed a healer.
"Traveling along the road at this time of day is dangerous," said a voice from above her. Delphine froze a chill forming at the back of her neck. She dared to look up, and there, in a tree, stood the black warrior. His hood was still up, but she could feel his eyes staring down at her. "Something could attack you, like, say, a very angry group of high elves." His voice was elegant, intelligent, and Delphine recognized a Cyrodillic accent.
"Who are you?" Delphine said, not taking her eyes off the stranger.
He grunted. "I'm me." Delphine reached for her sword and he instantly put up his hands. "Whoa, there, no need for hostility. I just…" His shoulders slouched a bit as he sighed. "I'm a friend."
"Friends tell friends their names."
"I saved your life, doesn't that mean enough?" Seeing she wasn't impressed he sighed again. "Fine then," he conceded. He jumped nimbly down from the tree. As he stood straight, Delphine was able to gage how tall this person really was. In fact, she was sure he was almost as tall as Revak. He reached and lowered his hood, revealing the dark blue skin of his face. The Dunmer smiled, his purple eyes twinkling as he bowed. "Just call me whatever you wish, I don't really use my name much, if at all."
"What's the harm in telling me then?"
"Names are a funny thing," he started, "they either can mean a lot or a little. They can tell you where someone is from, they can even tell you where they stand. My name though," he said putting up a finger, "won't tell you much at all."
"Stop speaking in riddles, friend," she said, gripping her sword.
The dark elf sighed. "I…" He pressed his fingers to his nose. There was actual pain written on his face. "I know what I am, who I am, but…" He dropped his hand and looked at her, his eyes soft and soulful. "I don't remember my name."
Delphine raised a brow. "You don't know your own name?"
He shook his head. "I… I've been disconnected from, well, everything, for a long time. I've been traveling, you see, through southern Cyrodiil all the way here to Skyrim. Just traveling." He nodded to the katana at Delphine's side. "I recognized you, your sword. When I saw the high elves following you I followed too. Lucky I did, because soon they caught up."
"You trailed the Thalmor without them knowing it?"
He shrugged. "One of my skill sets. I saw you two needed help, so I helped."
Delphine's grip on her sword slackened. "You… you're serious?"
"I've been traveling a long time, longer than I can remember." He glanced at Esbern, who was still lying on the ground unconscious. "Look, your friend needs help and I can supply it. Let's make camp, get him looked at and you can tell me why the world went to Oblivion."
Delphine sighed and looked at Esbern, her heart knew that this stranger was right, but her instinct was screaming at her that this was a bad idea.
"We could have set camp up ourselves, you know," Delphine chided, kneeling beside the now healed Esbern as one of the stranger's golden warriors disappeared with a low bow and mumbled words before disappearing. What exactly is that armor meant to protect in the first place?
He gave a white toothed grin. "It's more fun to watch them work." Seeing Delphine's glare he put up his hands. "It's more effective too! I was able to heal your friend in the time they set up camp!" Delphine continued to glare at the Dunmer. Delphine was going to argue that the stranger was a sexist idiot, but he had a point. While the warriors set up camp the stranger had wasted no time in healing Esbern, though the strange purple magicka put her a little off guard. Since when was Restoration magic purple?
Plus one of the warriors even started a rabbit stew on the fire before leaving. She couldn't argue against a hot meal after what they had been through today. Esbern, she thought, looking down on the old Nord.
The stranger must have caught this. "I did what I could. I'm no master healer, I mean I've done my fair share of Restoration… moot point, sorry. He'll live. I will want to keep a close eye on him though."
"A tracker, a warrior, and a healer?" Delphine said incredulously.
"What can I say, I'm a harbinger of many talents," he mused. Their glances turned to the stew, which was bubbling over. The stranger hopped up and removed the pot from the fire, smiling. He served Delphine a bowl, and sat across the fire with his own.
The stew was actually very good, Delphine was surprised to find. She ate hungrily. She and Esbern had been living off rations for far too long. "What are they anyways?" she asked between bites.
"Daedra," he said simply. Delphine stared at her soup with wide eyes. The stranger laughed. "Don't worry. They're the good sort."
"Since when are there good daedra?"
He looked at her. "There are good and bad daedra, just like there are good and bad people." Seeing Delphine wasn't having any of it he sighed and put down his empty bowl. "They are a servant class, sort of. They are sort of personal guards."
Delphine stared. "Personal guards to whom?"
The stranger stared at the fire. "A daedric prince."
"And you can summon them?" Delphine asked, not quite sure what to make of this elf. The stranger nodded. "Which one?"
"Sheogorath." He delved into the pouch at his side, popping something into his mouth. He offered her the bag. "Cheese?"
Sheogorath, she tried to remember, isn't that the prince of madness? "Why can you summon Sheogorath's guards?"
The stranger looked sad. "Anyone can summon any sort of daedra species. You just have to know the specifics on how to call them. There are dozens of different sorts of daedra, all from the different planes of Oblivion, all of them living under a different prince. Those golden ones, they're called Golden Saints, just happen to live in Sheogorath's little piece of Oblivion. I just like to summon them because, well, they're nicer than other daedra I've met. I can summon pretty much any sort of daedra you can think of; scamps, clanfears, dremora, and of course the Golden Saints. It takes quite a bit of magicka to use these summonings though. I can only use a couple of Conjuration spells a day before I'm spent. And that large reptile you saw kill the Thalmor, that was a clanfear, and they're native to Mehrunes ****n's realm."
She knew that the many dark elves didn't worship the Nine Divines. In fact, daedra were most of their religion. She was pretty sure Sheogorath was one of the ones they worshiped. It made sense, but she couldn't help but wonder if this had anything to do with his lack of memory. "Why can't you remember who you are?"
He shrugged. "I've been looking for answers to that myself." He paused, staring at Delphine. "When I saw you two, I… felt something. I felt like I was supposed to help you." He sighed. "It was a strange feeling to be honest." He looked at his hands, as if trying to decide on the right way to say what he was thinking. "I was wondering if I could join you. It might help me. I know it must be hard to trust me, but I helped you already. I can fight, I can use magic, plus I can summon."
She found herself nodding. She would keep a close eye on him, of course, but he seemed a good man. There was something about her that made her want to trust him.
He smiled. The stranger stood up and bowed. "Thank you for your trust, Grandmaster." She nodded back to him. "Where are you going anyways?"
He nodded. "I've heard of it. I passed it not too long ago," he said with a smile. "I took a wrong turn and ended up on my way to Markarth. That place is full of Forsworn, a whole camp." Delphine frowned. That wasn't good news at all. "Why do you need to go there?"
"To find Sky Haven Temple, and Alduin's Wall."
"Alduin," the stranger repeated. "I haven't heard of it." She figured that much. She explained the return of the dragons, and the new Dragonborn.
His eyes went wide at the word. "Dragonborn?! There's a Dragonborn? Like the Emperors?"
Delphine shook her head. "Not exactly. The Dragonborn Emperors were not true Dragonborn. There hasn't been a real Dragonborn since Tiber Septim himself."
"Why now then?" he asked. "Why is there a Dragonborn now after all this time?"
She shrugged. "Perhaps the Nine have decided to show us mercy, granting us a Dragonborn to couple the return of the dragons. All I know is that the Blades once again have a purpose, to assist the Dragonborn in his quest to defeat them."
"Where is he? Why isn't he with you?"
"Last I heard from him he was at the Throat of the World learning from the Greybeards, training."
The stranger crossed his arms. "We should rest then. Karthspire is a few hours march from here. I know how to get back there."
Delphine leaned back. "I agree," she said with a quick yawn. She was more tired than she remembered.
He smiled. "I'll take the first watch."
He stood, and made his way to the edge of the camp. Delphine was eager for rest, her muscles were sore. She had to admit she wasn't as young as she once was. Age was catching up to her, but she wouldn't let herself become a feeble old lady. She was a warrior born and bred, a Blade first and foremost. She'd die with her sword in her hand and dead Thalmor at her feet. Hopefully, though, that was a long time from now. Tonight, she would rest and tomorrow they would trek to Karthspire and find Sky Haven Temple.
As she drifted to sleep she could have sword she heard their new ally talking to himself in the distance.
The sound of footsteps tore Delphine away from her sleep. She blinked her eyes open. It was their new companion's pacing that had woken her up. First watch, huh? The sun was just peaking over the horizon. Her first thought was of Esbern's condition. She stood quickly and made her way to where the old man lay. He was still asleep. The wound on his head was healed, but there was always a chance of being damaged within. She put a hand on his shoulder. "Esbern?" she called, trying to rouse him.
The old man groaned, his eyes opening. "Delphine? What happened?" he said slowly. "Where are we?"
She smiled, happy that Esbern was speaking in full sentences. "A little ways down from where we were attacked, just off the main road, you took a bad hit to the head."
He grunted. "I can feel that." The Nord propped himself on his elbows, touching the mark on his temple gingerly. He froze, staring at something. "Delphine, who is that?"
She followed his gaze. Their new ally was walking along the edge of the campsite. Catching their gaze he waved. "Good morning Delphine, Esbern" he greeted.
Delphine looked at him curiously. "I don't remember telling you my name."
The stranger smiled. "The Thalmor used them."
Esbern looked between them. "Once again, I ask, who is this?"
"We didn't meet formally, sorry," the stranger apologized. "I helped fight the Altmer that attacked you."
"He's the one who healed you."
Delphine could tell Esbern wasn't having any of this. "Your name, boy."
The stranger smiled. "I am quite sure I am older than you are. I am mer after all."
Esbern grunted. "I didn't hear a name in that remark."
The dark elf looked at Esbern sadly.
"Delphine, are you sure this elf can be trusted? He won't even tell us his name."
"He has had plenty of chance to kill us, and he killed the Thalmor."
The dark elf put on his kindest smile. "I just want to help."
"He's offered to join us on our way to Karthspire," Delphine said, hoping that Esbern would lower his guard soon. Doubtful, she knew.
His eyes went wide. "What?!" he spat. "You," he nearly shouted as he rose unsteadily to his feet, "you just invited this stranger to join us? What in Oblivion were you thinking?!"
The stranger took a step toward Esbern. "Esbern," he said gently, "you should take things slowly, your head-"
Esbern spun on his heel to face the dark elf. "You, silence."
He turned back to Delphine. "A complete stranger!" he continued shouting. "A complete armed stranger just happens along and you just decide to invite him along for the journey like it was a blasted tea party!"
"He saved our lives Esbern!"
The old Nord snorted. "You've lost your mind woman!"
She knew that the old man was paranoid, but even if the stranger was dangerous they could handle him, plus they needed all the help they could get. She stood, meeting Esbern's eyes with her own. "I am the Grandmaster," she stated. "You will not question me."
The archivist glared at her. For a few seconds Delphine feared he would not follow her order. She was relieved when he sighed. He leaned in, whispering in her ear so only she could hear, "He kills us, remember I told you so."
Soon they reached an outcropping of stone looking over the valley to the entrance to Karthspire. Based on what the stranger had told them there was supposed to be a fairly large Forsworn camp here. Instead there were ruins. Tents were burned and crumbled, smoke from dying embers rose into the mid-day sky, and charred remains littered the ground. Delphine stared. "What happened here?"
Esbern shook his head. "No idea."
"Do you think they were attacked?" the dark elf offered.
"Looks like it. Be on your guard," Delphine advised, "whatever did this might still be about."
As they made their way through the camp it was becoming increasingly obvious that whatever did this was powerful. The burned tents and bodies were even more gruesome up close. Delphine covered her nose and mouth with her hand in an attempt to not breathe in the ashes. She was nearly gagging from the deep stench of carrion and smoke. It was a massacre; these Forsworn didn't even seem to have put up a defense. In fact, looking at the position of the bodies, it looked like many of them had been fighting each other, not some sort of monster. But no mere man could have done this, could they?
They were nearly past the camp and to the caves when Delphine, heard a strange sound. She raised a hand and their party stopped. "Listen," she instructed. Sure enough a faint crying could be heard. The dark elf reached for his daggers but once again Delphine held up a hand to stop him. "Wait a second."
She took a few steps towards the nearest ruined tent. The crying was definitely coming from there. "Delphine, I don't think we should-" Esbern but she was already going in.
The inside was bare, save for a few torn bed rolls and a wooden chest. Beside the chest a small form was rocking; a little girl dressed in rags. Delphine knelt before her. The girl didn't look at her. "What happened here?" Delphine asked. The girl continued rocking.
Esbern shook his head. "I don't think we will be able to do anything with her, Delphine."
"She's Breton," Delphine countered.
Delphine sighed and glanced at the child, who still was paying her no mind. Kin or not, this child was a usurper. Esbern was right, they couldn't take her, and no one would want a Forsworn child.
Delphine felt a large hand on her shoulder. She turned, seeing the stranger behind her. "Let me try," he offered. Delphine stepped aside as he knelt in front of the little girl. "Hey," he said softly. "What's your name?"
She said nothing. He edged a bit closer, lying a gently hand on the girl's tiny shoulder. "Alright, if you won't tell me your name, can you tell me what happened? We can help you."
She spoke so softly that he couldn't hear.
She stopped rocking and looked to both sides, like she was making sure no one would overhear her secret. "Dragon," she whispered.
Delphine felt a chill go down her spine. The scene looked familiar. She'd seen the ruins of Helgen not long after the attack there. Now that she thought of it, she could see the similarities. "Dragon?" he confirmed. She nodded frantically.
"A big black dragon."
The chill crept down again. A big black dragon? It can't have been, but she heard Esbern hiss, "Alduin."
"Is it gone?"
The child grabbed her knees and nodded. "Have you seen my mummy?"
Delphine felt a hole in her heart. She knelt down beside the stranger. The child shied away a bit, staring at Delphine. "No, we haven't seen her." Now that she was closer, Delphine could see the burns covering the little body. They were more than extensive, she was surprised the child had lived this long. She could hardly imagine the pain the child was in.
The dark elf stood, gently putting a hand on Delphine's shoulder and steering her away from the child. "Her burns are extensive," he said softly so only Delphine could hear. "She probably won't make it very far."
"What are you suggesting?"
"We leave her, or we put her out of her misery."
"You can't be serious," she nearly barked. "She's just a child."
"A very hurt child. Death will be a blessing."
Delphine scowled. "I will not kill a child."
The Dunmer looked behind him. Delphine saw Esbern nodding, agreeing with the dark elf. "Then look away," he said simply, drawing his small dagger and making his way toward the girl. He knelt before her. "Close your eyes," he said softly. The girl squeezed her eyes shut.
Delphine looked away as he plunged his dagger into the little girl's heart.
The caves were in the same shape as the camp. Bodies were strewn about, furniture destroyed, lingering fires. Could a dragon really have attacked this far into the caves, she wondered. She doubted it would even fit through the mouth of the cave. Perhaps the fires spread too quickly for them to deal with and they were trapped.
Or maybe it wasn't a dragon.
She kept an eye on their new comrade. He had killed the child without so much as a flinch and had said nothing since. It was obvious that he was not happy with his deed, but still he had done it seemingly without remorse. Though a few times she caught him seemingly talking to himself.
She managed to catch one word, 'dawn'.
Nonetheless, the path forward was clear. They found no more survivors, only more bodies and more debris. The further they marched into the mountain the less carnage they found, which was a relief to Delphine. She had seen enough violence for today.
Soon the air shifted in the cave. It tasted old. They were close then, closer to the ruin that lead to Sky Haven Temple. As they descended a roughly hewn staircase the walls changed from mere rock to carved brick and stone. Esbern touched the walls and nodded. "Definitely Akaviri stonework," he confirmed. Delphine followed him as he walked ahead, the stranger at her heels.
Moments later they followed the path, finding a set of stone steps going up and onto the next level. Upon reaching it Esbern stopped them. "Our ancestors," he began to lecture, "were a paranoid people when it came to secrets."
The stranger walked alongside the old Nord. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"Security," Esbern said simply. "Codes, combinations, traps, these temples were built to allow only those who were meant to enter well, enter. Any other would have to turn back, if they still had legs that is."
The stranger frowned. "I haven't seen any traps."
Esbern smirked. "Because this place is older than the Empire itself. You think we are the first to try to enter the temple? Dozens have tried and failed, even a grandmaster once tried, two hundred years ago."
Delphine caught up with the two. "Grandmaster Jauffre, the last true Grandmaster."
The old nord nodded. "Indeed."
"Why would a Grandmaster of the Blades come here?"
"After the Oblivion Crisis the Blades were left without a purpose. There were no Dragonborn left, and our order was doomed to become nothing more than a memory. Our order might be old, but it never forgets its roots. We were once great dragon hunters, working alongside the true Dragonborn to rid the world of the dragons. We sought our past. Jauffre sought Alduin's Wall."
"I take it he didn't find it?" the dark elf said almost sadly.
Esbern shook his head. "No, but he made it to the temple."
Delphine frowned. "How do you know that?"
The old man smirked. "Because he disarmed the traps." He opened his arms, pointing at the ground before them. "See them?" Delphine squinted in the torchlight, then her eyes went wide. There were pressure plates all around the room, though a path was set perfectly out, weights keeping them down and apparently holding the door on the other side open.
Following the ancient grandmaster's steps they crossed the room, and ascended to the next level. Delphine smiled at the sight of the entrance waiting for them. A large face, that of Reman Cyrodiil II himself, covered the door. On the ground in front of it there was a large circular rune that Delphine did not recognize.
"Ah," Esbern exclaimed, "the seal!"
Delphine crossed her arms. "How do we open it?"
Esbern reddened a bit. "Well…" He paused. "Delphine you must understand you found me on short notice, and had I…"
She scowled. "What are you rambling about Esbern?"
"Well, according to legend, the Blood Seal will only open with the blood of the Dragonborn."
Delphine froze. "The blood of the Dragonborn?"
"The Dragonborn's blood?"
He faltered. "Y-yes."
"You mean the blood of the Dragonborn… the one who isn't here?"
He nodded carefully.
"You mean to tell me we just crossed half of Skyrim to get to a door that we can't even open?!"
"Well, I seem to have forgotten this part…"
Delphine groaned, trying her hardest not to strike the old Nord so hard he woke up back in Riften. If it really opened with the blood of the Dragonborn that meant she would need to contact Revak. She wasn't even sure where he was. Part of her prayed to Talos he was still at High Hrothgar, but it had been months, he could have left by now.
She heard footsteps from behind her, the stranger approached, his hand grasping something that hung around his neck. "You need the blood of the Dragonborn? The Akatosh Blessed?" Esbern nodded. "There must be other forms of the blood of Akatosh Blessed, artifacts."
The old man paused for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Anything bearing the blood of any sort of Dragonborn should do."
Delphine watched the stranger with a curious look. What was he getting at? "Do you have an idea?" she asked him.
He nodded. "What about something like, say, the Amulet of Kings?"
Esbern's face lit up. "Of course, but we would have to find a bearer of a piece first, and they were scattered to the wind two hundred years ago. They were given to Elder Council members after the events in the Imperial City, if I do recall. That would be more of a task than simply finding our Dragonborn."
Delphine nodded, though still frustrated. "I can send a courier out Esbern, but this is ridiculous. It could take weeks-"
"You don't need to," a voice behind her interrupted. She turned, looking at the dark elf.
Delphine stared. "What do you mean we 'don't need to'?"
The Dunmer shook his head. He looks sick, Delphine noted. His forehead glistened with sweat and he was mumbling softly under his breath. She watched as he gripped the thing around his neck even tighter. "You," he started, "you don't need to find the Dragonborn." At that he pulled at the chain around his neck, breaking it off.
He pushed his way past the Blades to the center of the Blood Seal. He stared at his open palm. "You're wrong, Nord, " he said, his voice low. Delphine saw a flash of red in his dark hand. "They didn't just give a piece of the Amulet to each member the Council, they gave it to one more person, probably the most important person in all of Tamriel at the time."
"Who?" Delphine managed to ask.
She looked at Esbern, whose face was white. "The Seventh Champion of Cyrodiil, the one known as the Hero of Kvatch… the one who disappeared…"
The dark elf glanced back, a wicked smile on his face. She flinched in his gaze. There was something different about him, something dark, something very powerful. She thought for a brief moment that she had seen his red eyes turn purple. He looked at the jewel sadly for a moment before he used it to cut his own arm. Dark red blood pooled from the cut, dripping past the artifact and onto the seal. Soon, the a strange wind began to swirl around the dark elf.
"My name! I remember my name!" he called over the wind, the blood still flowing from his arm.
Once the seal was filled he dropped the piece of the Amulet of Kings, and crushed it beneath his boot Red light erupted from the Dunmer.
Delphine was thrown backwards, hissing as her head hit the ground… and darkness consumed her.